Funghi & Futures


An interview with Sylvia Gilis (Citribel & MycaNova)

In the spring of 2023, we had a very interesting conversation with a very interesting person, Sylvia Gilis. Sylvia is Director at Citribel, the only genuinely circular producer of citric acid, citrates and other high-value co-products through natural surface fermentation of sugar molasses. And General Manager of MycaNova®, a next-generation biomaterial made with sustainably grown mycelium, a root-like structure of a fungus. 

We talked about citric acid, mycelium, synthetic leather and sustainability. Not your everyday dinner conversation, but plenty to learn!
Switch back to 2016 when Citribel was acquired by a private group of investors and Sylvia and her colleagues entered the magical world of citric acid and mycelium, a future resistant world filled with possibility! They learned that the fungus that eats sugar and produces citric acid, also produces an intricate network of filaments during the fermentation cycle,  called ‘mycelium’.

Until 2016 mycelium was considered a waste product at Citribel, but the potential of these filaments found in and on soil and many other substrates, remained unexplored. Citribel started in-depth research in mycelium and discovered its many components and functionalities: all vegan, all natural, and non-GMO. Citribel’s mycelium is dried and milled into a powder that is easy to use. Production’s incredibly fast with a production of 6 soccer fields of mycelium on a daily basis!
We can deliver products of the highest quality on an industrial scale in an entirely sustainable way, this has huge promise
In search of a variety of functions of mycelium powder, the question was raised if it couldn’t be used in the creation of synthetic leather. Fast forward a few years later and MycaNova® was born. ‘My’ from ‘mycelium’, ‘Ca’ referring to ‘Citric Acid’, ‘Nova’ indicating a new material.

“Together with our Italian partner who has decades of experience in research in and working with synthetic leather, we brought MycaNova® to market. We develop a material with high bio-based content that really works. We aim to create something that has a true positive impact.”, Sylvia says.

“Our R&D department consists of bio-engineers and chemists whose daily focus lies on research into the potential and practical uses of citric acid and mycelium. We can deliver products of the highest quality on an industrial scale in an entirely sustainable way, this has huge promise”, Sylvia explains.

Sylvia speaks fervently about the incredible potential of mycelium. “The continued population growth we’re experiencing as a human species is leading us to a future in which we’ll soon face a shortage of resources. In order to keep a large group of people alive and thriving on our small, yet big, planet we’ll need to focus on reusing, recycling, upcycling and increase our R&D efforts on new biomaterials like mycelium. Funghi and their mycelia have the incredible power of transforming waste streams into something new and useful. That makes me hopeful for the future”.
Waste no longer exists, every waste stream is a source of nourishment for something else. We’re learning to enhance these waste streams. I think solutions lie in knowledge and creativity
When we finish our conversation talking about the future and new generations, Sylvia asks: “How can we transform the pressures in our society into something positive?”. She believes that Citribel’s research in the power, potential and use of mycelium can give a positive answer to youngsters and society as a whole. “By continuing our global research in biomaterials and new materials, we start seeing the world from a different point of view, we gain perspective, find solutions and contribute to something that can add a positive impact to one’s own environment and the world”.
MycaNova® Team