Very cool concept, but in terms of appearance--far less appetizing than mushrooms in their edible form! I love the idea of the natural materials and the fact that there's a eco-process for cultivating your own materials. But they've got to do something about the look and feel if they want any potential application base beyond behind-the-scenes packaging. That's down right ugly!
Well, to each her own. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I like the way it looks: it's so organic and earthy and so clearly not scary Styrofoam or some other ugly petro-based substance that looks unnatural and like it comes from outer space. Of course, this is being sold to businesses not individuals, but here in Santa Cruz County, and other neighboring counties in California, this stuff would sell like hotcakes. In fact, I thought they must be a local company, but they're based in NY state.
It will be interesting to see how this sells. It's so unusual, there is danger it will look dated in a few years -- like beanbag chairs or shag carpeting. But perhaps the point isn't the styling but the material. The material could end up inside varying styles.
I think Rob has two good points: that it's kind of hippy look may date it eventually--unless by then we're all wearing burlap anyway-- and that no matter how ugly some may find this stuff, if it's inside something--like insulation inside walls--appearance may not matter much.
Ann, I agree with your earlier thought that function can provide its own form of beauty. That said, if there is widespread acceptance of household products and furniture made with new materials, the design folks will be motivated to revamp the early efforts into designs with real aesthetics.
Rob, I agree in general. But for this material, since it's made out of bulky organic materials in shades of mostly brown, that might be tough to do I still think we need to re-adjust our esthetic sense toward more organic-looking stuff, especially if this is the wave of the future. OTOH, maybe they can grow an outer layer that's a more pleasing color, or use natural dyes or something.
Good point, Ann. For a certain portion of the population, it will be easy to switch to a new esthetic. For the mass market, I would imagine it will take some time, especially if early adopters get ridiculed for their earthy taste.
Interesting, but perhaps one of the worst ideas I've heard of in a while. Just ignore the esthetics, smell and process issues for a while.
Here they are proposing that we take into our houses large amounts of active fungus, specialized in attacking organic matter. My house is made from mostly organic matter and I do not want it to be decomposed.
I am also sensitive to mold, which could be a real issue here. Namely people with sensitivities or who will develop sensitivities to this active fungus.
I understand that fungus is all around us. But why go out of our way to bring vast quantities of it into our houses? It is asking for trouble.
The fungus is not active any more, nor does it smell, nor is it damp. The company already thought of those problems and has eliminated them. Living in a place where mold grows on plastic, as well as every other surface, and being highly allergic to mold and mildew, I made sure to find out all that before reporting this story. As the story says, growth is stopped through dehydration and heat treatment. There's more info about the process on their websites that addresses your concerns.
I'm sorry to sound so negative. Killing fungus spores is notoriously difficult. Neither heat nor dehydration is 100% effective. Maybe they have a good process, let's assume they do. What happens when this stuff is made by the mega-ton? You can expect quality control issues. What happens when it gets wet? I expect it to smell like what it is.
This is not intended to be a criticism of you. It was an interesting article. I would never trust this stuff. But then I am a typical paranoid engineer.
No worries, I didn't assume it was personal. But I did want to make it clear that I had the same initial concerns.
What I find interesting is how vigilant so many people are about the possible problems with new materials, yet how apparently complacent many of us are about the really scary properties of, or consequences of, using existing ones, like Styrofoam, or fibreglass insulation. If we had expressed the same amount of concern about existing petro-based materials, or other harmful materials, to their makers and our government and other authorities maybe we'd be a lot farther down the road to finding valid replacements.
From a business perspective, the fact that a large, successful company like Sealed Air, the inventors of Bubble Wrap, are partnering with this tiny company on a technology that could replace Bubble Wrap tells me that the new technology has a good likelihood of success, and that Ecovative's processes are probably extremely good.
Rob, my understanding is that the packaging materials are not aimed primarily at consumers, but at businesses that sell and ship products to consumers. Some of the examples given for packaging are for heavy and/or fragile items like wine bottles and furniture. Insulation is to be aimed at the construction industry. Other R&D they're involved in includes replacements for plastic foam used in cars, and structural biocomposite materials using engineered textiles, such as fiberglass and carbon fibers. This is partly why I think the "ick" factor is over-rated. When you order something online or from a catalog, you get what you get in your shipping box. I've seen a huge variety of crushed brown paper, various versions of bubble wrap, and pellets (petro- and bio-based).
That makes sense, Ann. The would reduce the "ick" factor. Yet the ick factor shouldn't be a big deal, since the material would be inert. Some people, though, are particularly uncomfortable with any kind of fungus. I'm going to miss bubble wrap.
I still don't get the "ick" factor here. Maybe being a cook and a gardener helps, I don't know. What's the difference between unpacking a box holding a piece of furniture cradled in stuff made of dried, squashed peanut hulls and dried, squashed mushrooms versus stuff made of dried, squashed wood pulp? They are both brown and made of plant materials.
@Dave. I am inclined to agree with you. Biological manipulation and introduction of hybrid species is great when they work, but we also have Asian carp, whatever that funky vine that is choking out vegetation down south and other examples of good intentions that have unintended bad consequences. I am in industrial mechanical devices, so have no standing in biologocal engineering, but it spooks the devil out of me
Natural materials are great, but I wonder how they will scale up. This seems to be a problem for all alternatives to hydrocarbon based materials. The fact is that chemical plants can be engineered to make massive amounts of material quite easily. We hear about these organic alternatives, then it all peters out. Not long ago containers made from corn stalks were going to replace plastic. These are the clear containers that fruits and vegetables might come in. I haven't heard about it much since. I hope that is not the situation here. Reducing our dependence on oil is a good thing.
naperlou, I think that's a good question, and one we always have to consider with new technology. Information on the company's two websites is not always easy to find, but I did come across some statements about their process and how scalable it is. Of course, only time will tell.
This is a great idea and a brilliant concept. One question is about the effort required to recover the roots and the oat hulls, how much time and energy does that take? Of course, the fact that neither of the materials is considered a food for either animals or humans is a very positive thing.
I do wonder about how much energy the corner cusion shown can handle. Is there any information about that detail?
William, there's a lot of info on lifecycle assessment and manufacturing processes on both websites, as well as case studies. I can't recall if there are MDS posted, but I suspect the company would be happy to answer questions like yours.
Printer, thanks for your comment. I understand what makes you wonder about making this into a kind of paper. I think it would have to be very highly processed, like wood pulp, because the materials are similarly large and rough. So I think it would end up being pretty expensive, unless produced on a very large scale. If this material could be a drop in replacement to existing wood pulp paper manufacturing facilities, that might keep the cost the same as paper. The main thing that would then be "green" about it would be the fact that it doesn't kill trees, and it does use waste material.
I'm not sure I understand what you mean by plastic, though--there are so many different kinds. Can you clarify that question a bit more?
Ann, It seemed to me that a press release pointing out some of the excellent qualifications of such a product should also tout the other considerations as well. When you are talking up a product it is wise to cover all of the reasons why your product is "wonderful".
This leads to all kinds of humorous thoughts, like, did they make these packaging materials from magic mushrooms? (And thus you'd feel very relaxed when you use anything that's been packed in them.) And can they also make this stuff from that garlic where they've removed the smell?
This is all by way of saying that I that certain eco materials have a bit on an "ick" factor associated with them, where you'd rather not publicize too widely where they came from. Recycled plastics and such make sense because we've been socialize to expect to see them. Biologically based materials, not so much.
Also, I'd say there's an analogy to the early antibiotic era, where R&D in new materials is going on at such a rapid clip right now that anything and everything is being experimented with. Which is exciting to see, but eventually we'll see maturity and then shake-out, where a certain range of materials rise to the fore and the others disappear from view.
Ann, thanks for another great article on an interesting subject. I wonder what the sound absorbing properties of this material are. Could you construct a good acoustic foam out of networks of mycelia? I'm working on acoustic foams right now, so this caught my attention.
Dave, that's a good question. Since one of the apps the company is working on is for insulation in construction, my guess is that the material has some sound-damping qualities, although they don't appear to be marketing it for that use specifically. But it's hard to tell--the company appears to be interested in aiming this at several different types of applications, and they point out that custom materials and apps are easy to do. I'm sure they'd be open to such questions. Let us know if you find out.
New versions of BASF's Ecovio line are both compostable and designed for either injection molding or thermoforming. These combinations are becoming more common for the single-use bioplastics used in food service and food packaging applications, but are still not widely available.
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