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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Foam Peanuts Replaced By (Real) Mushrooms

Foam peanuts. (HidingInABunker/Flickr)

Foam peanuts. (HidingInABunker/Flickr)

What if you could replace styrofoam with something that biodegrades and doesn’t contain petroleum?

That’s what the founders of Ecovative Design are trying to do — with mushrooms.

Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief science officer of the upstate New York start-up, says realizing the versatility and strength of mushrooms came to him and his co-founder, Eben Bayer, while they were undergraduates at Rensselaer Polytechnic College.

“We truly believe we have a revolutionary technology here, leveraging nature to replace synthetic plastics and foams.”
– Gavin McIntyre

Bayer comes from a family of maple farmers, and he noticed that the tissue of mushrooms grew on and bound together woodchips.

The question became, “How could we translate this natural process, this adhesion that occurs in nature, into an industrial setting, and turn this natural tissue into a living glue?” McIntyre told Here & Now.

Ecovative Design uses mycelium — which McIntyre describes as the “supporting structure of all fungi” — as its primary building material.

“The mycelium differentiates and forms mushrooms or the vegetative root type structure that grows on lawns or in trees, for example,” McIntyre explained. “Based on the temperature, or the CO2 levels, even light, the mushroom will form or it will just generate more of that vegetative mycelium.”

Mushroom-based packaging by Ecovative Design. (ecovativedesign.com)

Mushroom-based packaging by Ecovative Design. (ecovativedesign.com)

The company uses this mycelium network, combined with agricultural waste products such as corn stalks, to produce specific shapes for their packing materials. The process doesn’t use any external energy, and the resulting product is completely biodegradable.

“It’s really a set and forget process,” McIntyre said. The company has created products in a variety of shapes and sizes, from “customized and complex geometries for protective packaging” to “panels for the construction industry.

“And today, we’re even growing a house,” McIntyre added.

McIntyre is confident that Ecovative Design will prove to be the green version of Dow Chemical or DuPont.

“We truly believe we have a revolutionary technology here, leveraging nature to replace synthetic plastics and foams,” McIntyre said. “There isn’t a single day that goes by that there isn’t someone on our team that is developing a new piece of technology, a new material, or a new market that I’m not awestruck by.”

Gavin McIntyre’s 2012 TEDx Talk:

Guest

  • Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief science officer at Ecovative Design.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    this is exactly the sort of paradigm shift that will make our future unrecognizable

  • http://www.facebook.com/crazeeconnie Connie Guy

    I happened to catch your interview this morning on NPR.  I was awe struck by your concept of peanuts to mushrooms. Amazing.. We must get ourselves back to sustainable renewable’s, it is the only thing that will save our future!

  • IAN Rasmussen

    I’m doing a science project on this again this year, as a housing insulation, which is another use that they’re trying out, and it is pretty cool. I’m hoping for more accurate results this time, as it’s the second time around I’m doing this. This stuff is awesome cause it can be used for so much, and really has the ability to beat out a lot of current stuff. Also, the guys at the company are cool and really nice to people who are looking for samples (like high schol students).

  • RAOUL

    Question: If foam peanuts which are used for a variety of shipping or insulation products are replaced with mushrooms will the shipping cost be increased because one can now eat the packing. And, will the costs of  packing mushrooms depend on the daily market priced fluctuations which could raise the price so that ones shipped item has less value than the mushrooms? Or, will homes costs more because of the type of mushrooms one’s home is insulated with? And, will the real market value of one’s home be based on the type of mushrooms used for insulation in one’s home and not on some phony recession based value because the banks screwed the market up by fraudulent lending practices? Please advise.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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