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Bracket fungi, natural lightweight construction materials: hierarchical microstructure and compressive behavior of Fomes fomentarius fruit bodies

Müller, Cecilia; Klemm, Sophie; Fleck, Claudia

Bracket fungi such as Fomes fomentarius (“tinder fungus”), have strong, light and tough fruit bodies that make them interesting role-models for bio-inspired, biodegradable applications. So far, little is known about the relation between their microstructure and mechanical properties, information needed for designing novel composites. The fruit bodies (mycelia) of tinder fungus are hierarchically structured honeycomb foams. The mycelium has a transversely isotropic microstructure with open porosity on the nano- and micro-length scales. The lowest resolution porosity appears as elongated tubes that extend from beneath the woody upper surface down towards the lower side that faces the ground. The tube walls are made of a network of hollow, fibrous cells (hyphae), mainly consisting of chitin. When tested mechanically, the material shows the typical compressive stress/strain curve of foams, where an initially linear course is followed by an extended plateau region. The as-harvested material exhibits pronounced viscoelastic recovery, but the tube walls are visibly damaged. Compared with the transverse direction, the load-bearing capability and energy absorption parallel to the tube long axis are ~ 5 and ~ 10 times higher, respectively. Unexpectedly however, the energy absorption efficiency is similar for both loading directions. Buckling of the tubes and cracking of their walls are the main damage mechanisms, and the damage zones coalesce into deformation bands as it is typical for foams. Drying leads to ~ 7 times higher plateau stresses, damage becomes extensive, and the mycelium loses its viscoelastic recovery capability. Interestingly, rehydration restores the properties of the wet state. It is compelling to imagine an adaptive role to natural dry/wet conditions.
Published in: Applied physics, 10.1007/s00339-020-04270-2, Springer Nature