Chemists are striving to find unique, effective and eco-friendly ideas for creating sustainable polymers. Entrepreneurs, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre went outside the box when coming up with an innovative way to create a sustainable polymer, resulting in a material derived from fungi. Bayer and McIntyre started working with mycelium, a mushroom root structure, in 2007 while attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. They founded Ecovative Designs soon after; fast forward two years later, and Mushroom® Packaging/ Materials was born.
This packaging material is made from mycelium mixed with agricultural bioproducts like corn stalks, rice husks, and sawdust, “our process occurs within just 5-7 days, in the dark, at room temperature, and without any human interaction. Local agricultural waste is brought to the facility where it is pasteurized and sorted by size particle,” according to Melissa Jacobsen, Ecovative Spokeswoman. Once added, this mixture is molded into the shape of the final product. The mycelium is used to turn the biomass into a rigid foam-like material.
The concept behind mushroom packaging is to create a sustainable material that is compostable but does not biodegrade while in use. Jacobsen noted the overall concept came from when Bayer used to shovel woodchips into a gasifier to produce maple syrup, “sometimes he would encounter clumps of woodchips stuck together by tenacious white fibers, which he later learned were mycelium- the vegetative growth stage of fungi. The mycelium was self-assembling into natural glue.” Ecovative Design has been researching ways to developed products ranging from packaging material, automotive resources, insulation and surfing technology, “mushroom Packaging is a high performing, cost competitive alternative to standard protective packaging foams including EPS, EPP, and EPE and Myco Bord, our engineered wood alternative.” Rather than using toxic and carcinogenic urea-formaldehyde to bind particles together, we’re using mycelium Companies who have been utilizing Mushroom Packaging include Dell, Crate & Barrel, and Steelcase.
Another entrepreneur working with this fungi is Phillip Gordon Ross of MycoWorks. Ross began working with mushrooms in the 90s while working as a chef (C&EN). According to Ross’ website, in 2009 he planned to create an entire building out of his fungal material, “over the next few years I will continue experiments to determine the fungi’s material qualities as well as figuring out how to propagate more complex forms.” A few products MycoWorks offers as building blocks, Mycelium Furnature, and Mycotecture. Similarly, Ecovative Designs recently built a “Mushroom tiny house” made with mycelium insulation.
The folks over at Ecovative have dedicated themselves to spreading the word about this sustainable polymer and are providing grow it yourself kits (GIY) to the public, “through this new program, we’re offering genuine Ecovative Mushroom Materials to the world, so that you can make your own creations.” You can purchase a kit for $14 on their GIY website.
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