Building sustainably with bamboo and mushrooms

Portrait_Javadian, Alireza

Sustainable building means using natural resources as sparingly as possible. Alireza Javadian from Iran is developing methods of using bamboo and fungal mycelium as building materials. To this end, he moved to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in August 2020. Read in our portrait what prompted him to take this step.

Bamboo and fungal mycelium are not exactly typical building materials, but Alireza Javadian believes they have great potential. At the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the engineer is working on ways to use these two organic resources to construct sustainable buildings.

Javadian, who is from Iran, did not embark on a path that led him directly to Germany. While still at university, he first moved to Singapore in 2006. After completing two master’s degrees in construction engineering with different specialist areas, he even did an MBA there.

He started out by focusing mainly on sustainable concrete. In 2017 he then began writing his doctoral thesis at the “Future Cities Lab” run by the ETH Zurich in Singapore. His subject is sustainable construction with bamboo. This rapidly growing plant has long been used as a building material in tropical countries. Bamboo is not particularly weather-resistant, however. This is why Javadian, in a collaborative project, developed a more resilient composite material based on bamboo. It has already been used successfully to build houses in Indonesia.

Young researcher with his own start-up

In 2019, the young engineer established a start-up in Singapore called “Widuz”. It quickly thrived and his name became well known in professional circles. Javadian was already pretty successful in the city state, in other words. One thing bothered him, however: “Singapore does not support concrete projects that actually use sustainable building materials”, he explains.

An opportunity then arose at this critical period in Javadian’s life when his doctoral supervisor Dirk Hebel moved to KIT. At first he had still been teaching at the ETH Zurich, but a short time later was appointed Professor of Sustainable Construction in Karlsruhe. In August 2020, he also persuaded Javadian to join him there. The opportunities on offer in Germany convinced the Iranian researcher that it was time to say farewell to the tropics.

There is considerable expertise in the areas of polymers and timber production – and in the bioeconomy in general – in Germany, says Javadian. From his new base at KIT he has already been able to establish contact with various colleagues in other institutes and with businesses.  

From waste product to composite material

Javadian plans also to continue another project in Karlsruhe that he had begun while still in Singapore. It concerns the use of fungal mycelium as a building material. Mycelium is well suited for the bioeconomy, the scientist says. To date, the substance has primarily been used as a packaging material; as the researcher explains, however, it can also be used in construction if it is cleverly incorporated into a composite material.

“We use agricultural waste for growing mushrooms”, says Javadian, adding that the mycelium-based composite is easily mouldable and can be used in a wide variety of ways. Insulating material and dividing walls can be made of it, as well as supporting elements, he reports.

Karlsruhe feels peaceful to Javadian after the time he spent in Singapore, a city of several million inhabitants. He says that people are open, and that he occasionally gets into conversation with locals during his regular workouts in parks.

The young scientist has clear plans for the future: he wants to bring his start-up to Germany in the next five years, opening up a second office. He also hopes to find a permanent job, though he isn’t yet sure whether he’d rather be in the academic world or in business.

Author: Sven Titz