The founders of Ecovative Design want to replace traditional styrofoam packing with something that biodegrades — something that doesn’t contain petroleum.
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.
Bayer comes from a family of maple farmers. He noticed that the tissue of mushrooms grew on and bound woodchips together.
“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 said.
Ecovative Design uses mycelium — which McIntyre describes as the “supporting structure of all fungi” — as it’s 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.”
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 says 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 tech, a new material, or a new market that I’m not awestruck by.”