News of the magical business opportunities of the mushroom keeps crossing my desk, and no, I’m not talking about Psilocybin. I spend my days reading feeds related to sustainability and that’s where the trusty fungus keeps turning up. Absorptive properties make some strains very effective for clean-up of messy situations while their lightweight springy qualities protect precious consumer goods in others. Fungi are cheap and easy to produce and creative companies are turning to them again and again to solve problems.
Here are three examples of the business-relevant properties of the fungus in action:
Protecting Precious Goods
Dell made headlines last month with news that the latest high tech styrofoam material wrapped around your new computer would be fungi based. The fungi packaging is produced by a company called Ecovative Design. The company grows mushroom on agricultural waste and molds their fibers into styrofoam-esque padding to protect delicate electronic equipment. Once the padding has served its protection purpose, it will quickly biodegrade in the right conditions. With such an innovative approach, it’s no surprise that 3M recently invested in the start-up.
Diaper Duty and Other Serious Messes
Rumors about the potential for fungi to clean up the most toxic superfund sites have been around for a while. While they haven’t been recently used for such a serious application, they have been used for an impressive clean-up effort: dirty diapers. In fact, Oyster mushrooms broke down 90% of the material in traditional disposable diapers in only 2 months, 100% in four months. (And yes, the researcher ate them without ill effect). An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the U.S. (according to the EPA, that translates into more than 3.4 million tons of waste dumped into landfills). That’s a serious impact. With landfill tipping fees getting higher all the time, a solution that can break down that much waste in that short of a period of time has grand financial implications.
Innovation in Food Production
3p Darling BTTR Ventures turns used coffee grounds the coffee shops pay them to remove into high end mushrooms, (then they sell the spent grounds as fertilizer). That’s right, three income streams all from the gentle fungus.
Other producers have found that mushrooms suspended in gel make a powerful fertilizer- in the form of phosphate- for needy crops. During testing phase, researchers discovered that the gel can produce the same yield of crops with half the amount of added fertilizer.
In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollen makes the case that four plants (apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes) meet human needs extremely well and that is to their evolutionary advantage to do so because humans do the hard reproductive work for them. It’s not too much of a stretch to add mushrooms to that list. What will they come up with next?