Mushrooms May Solve a Low Tech Problem for a High Tech Industry
With all the jokes and clichés about mushrooms, it’s hard to imagine how those little bulbs of fungi can help the technology industry. There are 5 classes of mushrooms, edible, toxic, medicinal, psychoactive, and industrial. Long before synthetic dyes, mushrooms, which come in a variety of colors, would be run through a process to extract the chromophores (coloring agent) and used to produce vivid dyes of every color of the spectrum. Synthetic dyes replaced that process, but now the industrial mushroom is working its way back into mainstream life. Two young college students turned entrepreneurs, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, formed a company called Ecovative Design. Ecovative Design has come up with a process for using fungal mycelium (fancy word for a shroom) to replace Styrofoam in just about everything from packaging and insulation, to even surf boards.
For me, it isn’t the fact that they are using mushrooms as a Styrofoam alternative, but the actual process of growing the packaging that I find so interesting. At first thought, you would think they were merely grinding up some mushrooms and forming them into the necessary shapes and sizes, but that’s hardly the case. Their process involves creating a mold – not the stuff that grows on old bread, but a container the shape of the needed packaging. They then plant the mushroom tissue into the pre-shaped mold and let nature take over. The mushroom tissue grows without the need for light, water, or other petrochemicals; and what I would give for a lawn that needed so little attention.
Since nature is doing all the work to create the packaging, no supplemental energy is used to produce the finished product and no petroleum is used as an ingredient. With the rising cost of oil affecting the price of Styrofoam and consumer electronics being one of the top users of this type of packaging, this shroom packaging will eventually create economic and environmental advantages for our industry. Packaging isn’t the only product Ecovative Design is working on. They are developing insulation products, acoustical tiles, and automotive applications. According to their website http://www.ecovativedesign.com, the benefits to the automotive industry for using their product instead of Styrofoam are:
• Better energy dissipation than Expanded Polypropylene (EPP)
• Low or no VOCs
• Entirely recyclable or compostable at end of use
• Very good acoustical sound attenuation
• Passes all accelerated aging tests
• Fire retardant without any added chemicals
These benefits are something that I would urge the RV manufacturers and suppliers to check into, especially the fire retardant properties of the product.
Ecovative also has a “Grow it yourself kit” in beta testing that you can sign up for on their website. Once available, people will be able to come up with a wide variety of ideas and uses for their product.