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OfflineSynapse Trap
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Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging
    #15931666 - 03/11/12 01:29 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

http://www.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/story/2012-03-10/mushrooms-as-eco-firendly-packing-materials/53441606/1

Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging

GREEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Turns out that mushrooms — great in soups and salads — also make decent packaging material.

    Gavin McIntyre, left, and Eben Bayer, co-founders of Ecovative Design, with some of their eco-friendly packaging materials.

    By Mike Groll, AP



Gavin McIntyre, left, and Eben Bayer, co-founders of Ecovative Design, with some of their eco-friendly packaging materials.


Mushrooms are a key ingredient in pale, soft blocks produced by the thousands in an upstate New York plant. The blocks are used to cushion products ranging from Dell servers to furniture for Crate and Barrel.

More precisely, the packaging blocks are made with mycelium — the hidden "roots" of the mushroom that usually thread beneath soil or wood. Two former mechanical engineering and design students in their 20s, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, figured out how to grow those cottony filaments in a way that binds together seed husks or other agricultural byproducts into packaging shapes.


Their 5-year-old company, Ecovative Design, has a toe-hold in the increasingly lucrative market for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic foams — and their business is growing like shiitakes on a damp log. Bayer and McIntyre are already expanding their line to footwear and car bumpers.

"We want to be the Dow or DuPont of this century," Bayer said.

If that aspiration sounds grandiose, consider that six years ago Bayer and McIntyre were Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students growing fungus under their beds for a class project. Today, the young entrepreneurs are more than doubling their production space and recently announced a deal with Sealed Air Corp., the packaging giant known for Bubble Wrap.

Not bad for a product that grows itself.

Workers at Ecovative inoculate mycelium into pasteurized bits of seed husks or plant stalks, then place the mix into clear plastic molds shaped like the desired packaging pieces, such as a cradle-shaped mold for a wine bottle.

The mix is covered for about five days as millions of mycelium strands grow around and through the feedstock, acting as a kind of glue. The piece is heat dried to kill the fungus, insuring that mushrooms can't sprout from it. Since the mycelium is cloned, the product does not include spores, which can trigger allergies. The packaging is edible, technically, though it doesn't look appetizing and isn't recommended as a snack.

"It's low-tech biotech," Bayer says.

Bayer noticed mycelium's "stretchy" properties as a kid growing up on a Vermont farm. As students, he and McIntyre started with mushroom-based insulation, but the pair switched to packaging material because it seemed a better business bet. They experimented with common varieties like oyster mushrooms before hitting on just the right (secret) mix.

The company moved several years ago to a 10,000-square-foot building in Green Island that still has the feel of a startup: an old industrial asparagus blancher pasteurizes the feedstock, and the mycelium is applied with a machine that once put chocolate chips on cookies.

McIntyre's pet chinchilla, Audrey, rolls around the place in a plastic pet ball.

Bayer said Ecovative, with 42 employees, has attracted more than $10 million in grants and equity investment, as well as some big-name clients. Dell director of procurement Oliver Campbell says his company has a pilot program using the Ecovative product instead of polyethylene foam for shipping high-end servers.

"To cushion $25,000 worth of servers with mushrooms, that's kind of a radical thought," Campbell said.

But Campbell said the technology fits Dell's green initiative. It probably helped that Campbell was a mushroom guy who grew shiitake mushrooms for sale with his wife.

Similarly, Crate and Barrel contracted with Ecovative as part of a push to reduce packaging and cut reliance on expanded polystyrene, a commonly used packing material. The home and furnishings company has a pilot program using the mushroom product for corner blocks to cushion a large room divider with shelves.

Ecovative's products cost slightly more than expanded polystyrene, says Crate and Barrel executive Aaron Rose. But Dell's Campbell called the difference negligible and said cost would come down as production grows.

Both executives stressed the product's environmental value.

While expanded polystyrene protects everything from dinner plates to flat-screen TVs, it has fallen out of favor with environmentally conscious consumers because it's made with toxic chemicals and breaks down slowly.

In contrast, Ecovative's product breaks down in six to nine months and is OK to throw on a compost pile.

"It's very, very unique, very novel. And the really interesting aspect is that it's completely biodegradable," says Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which advocates for environmental packaging.

There are other "green" packaging alternatives, such as starch-based packing peanuts made from grains. But Johnson said sustainable packaging alternatives that depend on potential food crops are likely nonstarters.

Ecovative recently announced a deal with Sealed Air to accelerate production, sales and distribution, and Bayer and McIntyre are starting to branch out beyond packaging. The young visionaries — Bayer is 26, McIntyre, 27 — talk about roofing material that can repair itself and a mycelium alternative to plastic office furniture. They already have contracts to work on footwear and material for car bumpers.

"Just by changing the fungus — the raw material — and the growth condition we allot the organism, we can tune the performance," McIntyre said.

He explained that the hardness and other qualities of the molded pieces can be manipulated by altering the feedstock from, say, hemp core to cotton seed hulls, or by switching mycelium.

Essentially, if something is made of plastic, they believe there's a decent chance it can be made of mushrooms


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OfflineSynapse Trap
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Synapse Trap]
    #15931696 - 03/11/12 01:36 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

hemp and mushrooms, together again :smile:

:thedude:


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:mushroom2: Synapse Trap :mushroom2:
"Johnny's in the basement mixin' up the medicine..
I'm on the pavement thinkin' 'bout the government.." -Dylan
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Offlinepachoo
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Synapse Trap]
    #15931718 - 03/11/12 01:43 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

:heartpump::dancingshroom::heartpump::dancingshroom::heartpump:


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OfflineInconspicuous
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: pachoo]
    #15932017 - 03/11/12 04:37 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

Old news man.


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Offlinerunningfox2002
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Inconspicuous] * 1
    #15932098 - 03/11/12 05:20 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

Not old when not everyones heard it.  Badass nonetheless!  Wonder what kind they use.


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OfflineInconspicuous
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: runningfox2002]
    #15932133 - 03/11/12 05:58 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

It was on here before though...


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OfflineLord_McLovin
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Inconspicuous]
    #15932362 - 03/11/12 10:02 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

Quote:

If that aspiration sounds grandiose, consider that six years ago Bayer and McIntyre were Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students growing fungus under their beds for a class project.




Was that class project called "exploration of consciousness"? :lol:


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InvisiblePilz
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Lord_McLovin]
    #15941315 - 03/13/12 10:17 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

i bet they started with cubes...


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Invisiblekoraks
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: Inconspicuous]
    #15941351 - 03/13/12 10:39 AM (2 years, 9 months ago)

Quote:

Inconspicuous said:
It was on here before though...



I missed it back then. It's great news - a beautiful example of how oil-based, ecologically persistent materials can be replaced with cheap, biodegradable alternatives. It's brilliant. If the actual cleanup/recycling costs of existing, oil-based packaging materials would be discounted in the product price, then I bet this mycelium foam would offer vastly superior economic performance. As it stands, I hope they can make a viable business out of it.


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Offlineelkart
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Re: Firm uses mushrooms to make eco-friendly packaging [Re: koraks]
    #16049355 - 04/05/12 08:27 PM (2 years, 8 months ago)



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