Mycelial networks and the "mushroom ball" carbon sink . Plausible?

Hi, I’m an environmental activist --not a scientist-- and fascinated by fungi. I am always interested in ideas to reduce our carbon footprints and capture carbon. I came across a Kickstarter for a “mycelial orb” which you would dissolve in your backyard (or anywhere with soil) and it will grow a mycelial network underground which would be a carbon sink. Supposedly it can capture 1 ton of carbon per year for at least 10 years. This sounds awesome–but maybe too good to be true? Any mycologists think this is plausible? Would mycelial networks survive with no additional care? Would they really capture that much carbon? Can you think of unintended consequences?

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Not a mycologist, but my guess would be that, unless you’re using the wrong chemicals on your lawn, there’s already quite a bit of mycelial growth in your soil. Also, while they may well lock carbon away that would otherwise return to CO2 (not sure about that – ask a soil ecologist if you can find one), fungi can’t grab carbon out of the atmosphere – that requires photosynthesis, which fungi can’t do.

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This kickstarter popped up on my facebook, and I’m pretty skeptical about it, however, just to clarify, I believe if I remember correctly, is was supposed to absorb CO2 inadvertantly, by promoting growth of surrounding plants through symbiosis of the mycelial growth, and plant roots.

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I would be skeptical about introducing potentially nonnative species to one’s yard, unless they were something bad at spreading.

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I would be quite interested to know what fungi they are using as the functional diversity of fungi is, of course, enormous. Evidence suggests mycorrhizal impacts on carbon storage are quite situational. Mycorrhizae can store carbon in recalcitrant compounds, suppress decomposition… or “prime” soils for increased decomposition (Cheng et al, 2012). The strongest claims for mycorrhizally driven carbon storage that I am aware of (e.g. Clemmensen et al, 2013) are from old growth forest ecosystems and perhaps not very applicable to suburban lawns. I would, however, love to see any research published on the efficacy of such “orbs.”

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I’m very sceptical, because in every backyard there are already plenty of fungi growing. If not, growing conditions are not suitable. It’s as useless as planting trees into a thriving forest, they would likely die (or stay small → not much carbon storage) because there are already plenty of trees, which compete for light, water and nutrients. Besides, in a healthy forest you dont need to plant new trees to replace the old ones, as they reproduce themselves. Its basically the same with backyard fungi.
I think the campaign is designed to make money and aimed at people who have enough ecological understanding to appreciate the idea, but not enough to know the limits of the method. You could call it a scam…

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Better to avoid fertilizing lawns and releasing greenhouse gases. On the whole this sounds like a scam.

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Just for reference, this is the kickstarter being referred to: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/netzero/netzero-capture-your-carbon-footprint-in-your-lawn

Not endorsing or anything (I know practically nothing about fungi), just giving context.

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In god we trust, all others bring data!

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Thanks to @pseudalex for bringing this kickstarter to broader attention - I have been doing a deep dive on it all morning and there are some very big red flags.

I will be posting something more in-depth later, but I want to chime in right away to say that there is sketchy business going on in this campaign and product, above and beyond the very unsound ecological/scientific claims that are being made.

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If you want to ‘capture carbon’ rather choose to plant what would be locally indigenous / native.

In Cape Town’s fynbos two silver bullets keep returning. Plant trees (our indigenous forest grows in the mountain kloofs along the streams). We cannot ‘plant a rainforest’ to generate rain in our mediterranean climate. The second silver bullet is spekboom Portulacaria afra which despite the noisy hype is not better at capturing carbon.

They say grassland is actually best (on land, where it used to be - prairie?)
And, is it plankton in the ocean?

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Looking forward to it.

The description from these people’s Facebook page does not give me confidence in them. “NetZero is a living orb of Mycelium , a natural fungi that’s the equivalent to plant steroids.” Very vague language. I am also looking forward to hearing what @leptonia has found.

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They are talking about lawns so I assume they are alluding to the role of vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae (VAM) fungi that associate with grasses. Indeed the majority of land plants will have roots already infected by these fungi. It has been demonstrated that addition of VAM ‘biofertilisers’ (there are many products on the market) can increase plant growth and resilience. However I wonder what precisely is in their product. They don’t seem to say. As far as I’m aware these fungi cannot be grown in pure culture and so cannot be grown on a large-scale in bio-reactors. They are obligate biotrophs and can only grow in partnership with their host plants. The reproductive propagules, that logically would be in such a product, are generally harvested from soil by complex sieving. They certainly don’t “dissolve in water”. Perhaps the product is just fertiliser for fungi? In which just buy some fertiliser and throw it on the lawn.

If they are promoting the application of fungal spores then I have an additional concern. Fungal species, like plants and animals, tend to be rather restricted in their natural distribution (despite what some iNat records might suggest ;-) “Everything is not everywhere”. Spreading potentially localised species around the planet through biofertilisers might not be a good idea. We have enough problems with weedy plant, insects pests and plant pathogens without deliberately adding to the mix. We don’t know enough about soil microbial biogeography, or function to be randomly tinkering.

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Can someone report this to Kickstarter? I don’t have an account. In my eyes this is clearly a scam. I dont know if it violates any law or even Kickstarter Community Guidelines (many things are legal even when they are contradicting scientific evidence, e.g. alternative medicine), but i think we have to raise awareness. People can’t judge if this is working or not if they lack the ecological knowledge.
I mean, it’s not right to sell a product which is not working by making false claims. It’s especially unethical if people buy it to help the planet.

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Wow, very interesting responses already. I went looking for some more details on the Orb’s Kickstarter page. Here are a few additional points that may answer some of the questions raised above:
-These are ectomyrhizhal and endomycorrhizal mycelium
-We have different blends depending on the geography, climate, and also goals. Our NetZero Orbs were developed specifically for lawns which are essentially grasslands though they, of course, have tremendous variety in types of grass, climate, and root systems. The blend we use on our Miyawaki style forests abroad are more geared toward trees though also shrubs, flowers, and other plants in the ecosystem.
-It’s a blend of about two dozen different species for maximum versatility and also for carbon capture though a part of carbon capture is also increasing growth of biomass aboveground as well as below. You can do on-site testing for each inoculation, but for the lawns we developed a blend that works well with St. Augustine, Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Zoysia Grass, etc.
-We have been inoculating sites for twelve years and our mycologists on staff have assured us that mycelium is universally genomic so not invasive.
-Our data from experimental soil inoculated with NetZero mycelium blend resulted in enhanced soil microbial growth and carbon storage in fungi by 40-70% (50%) while maintaining 40% lower carbon losses per unit growth compared to un-inoculated control soil on an annual basis.
-All of our data, results from our over sixty sites, and the application protocol have been independently reviewed and verified by experts in carbon capture including Verra (https://verra.org/) and EEVS Insight (https://eevs.co.uk/).

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That sounds suspiciously like ‘fruitloopery’
fruitloopery - Wiktionary

Show me the peer-reviewed publications in respected journals supporting the specific assertions and I would take it more seriously. It’s not impossible but I remain skeptical.
And carbon sequestration needs to be guaranteed for much more than 10 years to make any meaningful difference.

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Asked a friends who’s a mycologist about this. His response was basically to be very suspicious.

Some points from them: some of the types of fungi they discuss are not likely to have the effects they claim, longstanding lawns should already have whatever fungi they will have, fertilizer applications on many lawns will likely limit benefits and abundance of fungi, and, of course, no obvious peer-reviewed articles. If they show the receipts, that might be a different story.

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I’ll gladly eat my hat if it turns out this is not 100% a scam. Anyone notice there’s no units of area (tons per what? per acre?), range of estimated storage potential, recommended best practices to ensure survival and optimal conditions for mycelial growth, or specifics with regard to climate or soil type?

If it is a solution, they solved climate change. Sounds too good to be true? You know what they say about that.

Not a mycologist (took some courses as an undergrad though), but I would recommend looking at published research on soil carbon storage and fungal contribution and the influence of soil type on carbon storage by microbes to get some context on the myriad uses and efficacy of fungi, which don’t include solving climate change from a lawn.

For context, soil carbon storage is a great potential storage solution, but highly unlikely to be significant in managed lawns without established protocols like no-till and elimination of non-organic fertilizers. Since lawns are generally managed like overfed farmland (which in lots of cases is already overfertilized), alongside ‘hidden’ carbon emissions from mechanized mowing, they’re currently more likely to act as a carbon source than a [sink] over time .

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Apparently I have a Kickstarter account, so I logged in and reported the project citing some of the more obvious red flags people here pointed out: no mention of the fungal species, no peer-reviewed studies, implausible results, no known production mechanism for the fungi that would be most likely to have an actual effect. I also linked to this thread, so maybe someone from Kickstarter will read the more detailed skepticism here. Or maybe someone from NetZero will turn up to explain where we’re all going wrong.

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