Imagine what our planet would look like in a thousand years, a planet where plastic surrounds us. There are various cons of plastics. The synthetic materials like plastic require huge amount of energy to create. Also, plastic has disposal issues. Furthermore, they are slowly poisoning our planet.Thus, with a mission to eradicate, this entrepreneur, Eben Bayers, came up with a unique idea. An idea to use mushrooms to create an entirely new class of materials. Something which performs a lot like plastic during their use but made of agro-waste. Material which is compostable at the end of their lives. Eben Bayers came up with Ecovative Design.Before getting to know what like of material Ecovative Design produce, let’s do a root analysis of the word, ‘WHY’ and all about Mushroom for Packaging.
Why Ecovative Design: Cryhelp for Earth
Styrofoam is one of the most egregious offenders in the plastic category. For Ecovative Design it is toxic white stuff. For every single foot of cubic styrofoam, you got a litre and half of the petroleum. That is the amount of energy enough to light our homes and cars. But what we do is, trash a litre and half of the petroleum after a few week of use. For the matter of fact, 20 Billion Dollar of styrofoam material is produced every year. We can find it everywhere from building material to surf boards to coffee cups to table tops. The USEPA in the United States did a survey on landfills in 200. According to the surveys, the toxic white stuff takes up 20% of landfills by volume. Even worse, they are entering our natural environment and soon the oceans. Therefore, certainly fouling our earth’s respiratory and circulatory systems.
For that, Ecovative Design has come up with biomaterial to replace synthetic plastics, to save our planet.
3 Principles to guide Ecovative Material
Today we use a single feedstock petroleum, to heat our homes, power our cars and to make most of the materials around us. It is a finite source. Thus, creative design work on using agro wastes like seed husks etc such that nobody puts a litre and a half in the trash every time they get a package.
Far less energy
Plastic manufacturing takes up the huge amount of energy. Thus, the company has come up with material where no energy is applied to the equipment, but the material is formed naturally.
Create material that fits into natures recycling system
Natural goods do not need pre-processing. In other words, they fit everywhere in the natural cycle, but not plastic.
Nature has an amazing model. With the self-persisting process, a tree sheds its leaves after utilising it. With that, solar collectors, the molecular photons capturing drops them to the smallest distance without any preprocessing. Thus, gets them back to the top cycles.
Similarly, mushrooms are the recycling system of nature. The part of the mushroom, analogous to root system: the mycelium is the key feature of Ecovative Design’s Biomaterial.
They grow them with the same properties as that of synthetic material. This self-assembling material forms into chitinous polymer after growing and consuming the waste biomass.
Idea Generation & Business
Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre developed Ecovative as a university project. Bayer and McIntyre came from similar background and were classmates for four years of college. In the meanwhile, they collaborated on various college project, one of which was Ecovative. As inspired by his childhood, Bayers first brought this insight to the table about using fungal mycellium biology as a grown glue. This changed the paradigm of how we used the things today.
Due to their inovative idea, World Economic Forum in Davos honoured them as a tech pioneer which attracted millions in grant money from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture, additionally getting private investment from the likes of 3M and RPI.
They took a five-day course on ‘how to start a company’, and drew a business plan that won a green challenge competition at Oxford University. They used the £10,000 prize to start testing their foam panels.
Now, Ecovative is establised in the commercial complex overlooking the dilapidated grounds of the local power authority in the town of Green Island, 16km from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus in upstate New York.
Mycelium is the strong fiber grown after the consumption of nutrients. It excretes chemical compounds by digesting agro-wastes and breaks down cellulose. They form a matrix of millions of tiny fibers to build a chitinous polymer. They are self- assembling units which harden as they grow over the crop waste. Ecovative Design uses mycelium as a glue. Just like we mould things in the plastic industry, Mycelium biomaterial can also be shaped in whatever shape we want. Mycelium Biomaterial materials have many different properties. They are insulating, fire resistant, moisture resistant, vapour resistant, and can also absorb acoustical impacts. Moreover, these materials practically grow themselves and are 100% compostable.
In a gist, mycelium is used because:
- Local Open Feedstock
- Self Assembly
- 100% biological yield
- Natural Polymer
Steps of Manufacturing Mycelium Biomaterial | Mushroom For Packaging
Four basic steps required to make these materials:
- Selecting a feedstock: Preferably something regional, anything available in the area like seed husks, crop stalks etc.
- Molding into a tool: Physically putting into an enclosure into a mould. To get any desired shape. The equipment cleans, cools, and pasteurizes these materials.
- Growing mycelium through these particles: The organism is doing the process not the equipment, thus, continuously innovating the mycelium. Organism begins to digest the agro waste, and over next 5 days assembles them into biocomposites.
- Product: At the end, a tough, Evocative Design comes up with white material for usage either as packaging material or a building block, etc
The biggest achievement we could strive for is the society’s steady state. A point where we are not taking out more than we are putting in. Bayers says, “Do not ask yourself, what would be better, but ask yourself, what would be ideal.” Therefore, Ecovative Design is one step towards making a positive impact on nature and to bring holistic results by using technology for the betterment of the human race.
Ecovative – Mushroom For Packaging