Beneath every forest floor is a network of microscopic underground fungi, a “woodwide web” that connects the trees, without which, the forest wouldn’t be able to do its job from providing crucial habitats to sequestering and storing planet-warming CO2.
Mycelium, or the vegetative parts of this fungus that are used for all types of climate mitigation efforts from leather to plastic to meat replacements, forms a “mycorrhizal network,” which connectives individual plants together to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals while acting like telephone lines that allow trees to communicate.
If you follow FootPrint Coalition on Instagram, you might have noticed that this week’s Word of the Week is mycorrhiza. The post features researchers behind a Mycological Innovations Science Engine project seeking to understand how the mycorrhizal network works to regulate carbon capture in challenging environments, from forests affected by drought to those riddled with air pollution. To do this, they’re using 3D-printed microchips to listen in on this secret symbiotic relationship.
But, they aren’t the only ones invested in this underground web of fungus, which according to Scottish startup Rhizocore Technologies, is the heart of forest restoration, and unfortunately often goes ignored.
According to Rhizocore — which in late June raised £3.5 million, or about $4.5 million – “in natural woodlands, young saplings rely almost exclusively on these fungal nutrients to survive.” Without them, many attempts at reforestation end up dying.
The world is undergoing a deforestation crisis in tandem with the biodiversity and climate crises. The trees are dying due to more intense droughts and pollution, burning amid climate-fueled heatwaves and accompanying wildfires, and being chopped down at greater extents for agriculture, paper, fossil fuel drilling, and even in some cases climate technology-essential mining.
In fact, as the 8 Billion Trees project reports, over 15 billion trees are lost annually, which is the equivalent of every person on the planet having 3,000 rolls of toilet paper, while directly contributing to 12% of greenhouse gas emissions.
When it comes to combating deforestation associated with products like toilet tissue and palm oil, FootPrint Coalition Ventures-backed companies like Cloud Paper and Zero Acre Farms provide alternative solutions to these products respectively.
However, combating deforestation also means restoring the habitats that were once there, while helping to expand the world’s forests.
Still, according to Rhizocore, many reforestation projects could be doing a better job. With 90 million trees planted in the U.K. alone every single year, and a similar number cut down, most don’t survive because they are planted in soils without their vital fungi friends.
That’s why Rhizocore aims to “revolutionize reforestation,” accelerate soil biodiversity, and boost carbon capture potential as the world embarks on the mission of mitigating climate change, all with mycelium.
To do this, Rhizocore developed first-of-its-kind mycorrhizal fungi pellets. These “rhizopellets” can be effortlessly integrated into the tree-planting process, allowing for new samplings to not only flourish but be more drought resistant.
Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Rhizocore was founded in 2021 by CEO Toby Parkes and Chief Mycologist David Satori. Over the next two and a half years, the company has ambitious plans to scale, and in 2025, plans to plant up to 5 million trees with its accompanying fungal pellets.
With the recent seed funding, led by ReGen Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and Grok Ventures, the startup plans to sprout and grow from a 10-person team and develop the infrastructure they need to scale its fungal solutions.
“To receive such global backing really is a validation of our product’s potential to restore ecosystems around the world — but it’s also a recognition of the transformative power that fungi hold, as the crucial foundation of the planet’s ecosystems,” Parkes said in a statement.
In addition to its own reforestation ambitions, Rhizocore is exploring carbon accreditation and partnering up with existing foresters. One recent partnership is with the Irish not-for-profit, The Nature Trust, which uses corporate and public funding to restore woodlands. Launched in March, the non-profit is using Rhizocore’s fungi pellets to explore improving tree growth and health in native Irish trees.
“This is a radical approach to tackle climate change that we’re developing at Rhizocore,” Parkes said, “and with the support from our investors, we will be able to sequester gigatons of carbon to protect the future of the Earth for generations to come.”