Plants are formed by a multitude of different biopolymers, such as cellulose, lignin and hemicelluloses. These polymers are the main constituents of the plant cell wall and play a significant role in its structural integrity. Furthermore, smaller molecules such as extractives, proteins and fatty acids are present and have, for example, protective functions. Many of these components can be extracted from the biomass and used for various applications. Our modern societies need a large range of materials with applications spanning from construction and packaging to medical devices. Unfortunately, many of these items are either sourced and produced in an unsustainable manner, or they are not biodegradable and often end up in landfills.
Our group is interested in understanding how the different biopolymers interact with each other and how these interactions can be employed to develop novel composite materials. Furthermore, to increase the biocomposites' functionality, we use common chemical and biochemical approaches to modify the naturally sourced components before embedding these in the composites. The aforementioned chemical reactions are performed in ways reducing the need for excessive amounts of chemicals and solvents, making our final products genuinely sustainable. We are also investigating how fungi, specifically mycelium, can create novel bio-composites with tailored properties. Some fungi can degrade and metabolize lignocellulosic biomass, resulting in a dense mycelium web spanning the substrate. By studying how different substrates impact mycelium growth and, ultimately, the properties of the final bio-composites, we will be able to fundamentally understand how different strains of fungi can be employed to create multifunctional bio-composites.