Move over Dow Chemical Co.
Two recent engineering grads from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, have invented a new sustainable packaging technology that will challenge expanded polystyrene foam used in packaging and building insulation (Styrofoam).
While classmates were enjoying pub crawls, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre were fascinated by mushrooms growing on wood chips. They saw how fungal mycelium (mushroom roots) bonded wood chips together, much like how a matrix resin binds together prepregs. In a class at Rensselaer called Inventors Studio, they used this idea to create a product now trademarked Greensulate.
They take locally sourced agricultural byproducts such as rice hulls or cotton gin trash and use their now patent-pending process to introduce fungal mycelium. In 5-10 days loose agricultural byproducts are transformed into a rigid material that has similar material properties as synthetic foams like the expanded polystyrene invented by Dow in 1941.
Greensulate and a packaging product called EcoCradle are aerobically and anaerobically compostable, which means they will biodegrade in a garden, home compost pile or in a landfill. That’s a big plus compared to many plant-based plastics being proposed for packaging applications. There are no spores in the material. This stuff is even fire-safe. According to Bayer and McIntyre you can hold a blow torch up to Greensulate and it won’t catch on fire! They have a video on their Web site to prove it.
OK, what does it cost? They project costs will be competitive with expanded polystyrene foam or bubble wrap. But they haven’t scaled up the technology yet. They’re shipping samples, and are looking for partners to help them commercialize the technology.
Their company, called Ecovative Design, is based near Troy, NY.