Two men and their company, Ecovative Design, think it’s a good idea to insulate the walls of your house with mushrooms. Seriously.
Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre have developed a strong, low-cost biomaterial called Greensulate that has the potential to replace the expensive and ecologically-harmful Styrofoam and plastics used in wall insulation, packaging and other products.
Another potential Greensulate application: Wind turbine blades and auto-body panels. They last month added a Popular Science Invention Award to their growing trophy case for their efforts.
In April the start-up based in Troy received the Rising Star award from the Center of Economic Growth. The award is for its outstanding achievements as a start-up company whose venture is showing long-term promise.
“We like to call (Greensulate) low-tech biotech,” Bayer says. In the lab, they grow mycelia, the vegetative roots of mushrooms that resemble bundles of white fiber. But instead of soil, the roots grow in a bed of agricultural by-products like buckwheat husks and cotton burrs, and those intertwining fibers give the material structural support. The mixture is dropped inside a panel (or whatever shape is required) and, after 10 to 14 days, the mycelia develop a dense network – just one cubic inch of the white-and-brown-specked Greensulate insulation contains eight miles of interconnected mycelia strands.
The panels are dried in an oven at between 100¬∞ and 150¬∞F to stop mycelia growth, and at the end of two weeks, they’re ready to do their thing on the wall.
In 2007, they incorporated under the name Ecovative Design and won $16,000 in funding through the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. A year later, joined by Ed Browka, who is the company’s chief operating officer and other team members, they took the $700,000 prize at the PICNIC Green Challenge in Amsterdam.
Ecovative has begun a trial run of Greensulate panels as replacements for insulation in a Vermont school gym. The partners expect to complete all industrial certification and testing by the end of the year.
Ecovative also makes a packaging product called Acorn that’s made of agricultural waste materials that come from renewable sources. Acorn is 100 percent compostable after use, and can be embedded with grass, flower and plant seeds, which draw upon the material as it breaks down to fuel organic growth.
“We are creating cost competitive alternatives to synthetics like foams and plastics,” say Bayer and McIntyre. “We believe you can achieve sustainability without sacrificing performance or affordability. That’s why we are replacing fundamentally unsustainable plastic and synthetic products with natural composites – products that perform just as well as the current state of the art, at a lower cost to both you and the environment.”
It’s high time that mushrooms were put to more productive use.