While fungus is normally an unwanted presence in food, homes and personal belongings, a fledgling company based in upstate New York believes it has the potential to become the green building material of the future.
Ecovative, founded by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, is farming and harvesting fungi for conversion into an organic material which can fulfill a multiplicity of functions, including packaging for hi-tech goods and interior insulation for house.
The company, which has 60 employees and operates a huge facility in upstate New York, is cultivating mycelium, the wispy, floss-like, vegetative component of a fungus. The mycelium is grown in dark cartons for between three to five days before extreme heat is used to prevent the material from sprouting reproductive spores.
Mycelium is highly adhesive, and can form a super dense, foam-like matter which Ecovative’s founders believe holds a number of key advantages over conventional building and packaging materials.
It grows extremely rapidly and is capable of generating miles of floss-like roots within a matter of mere days. This prodigious growth rate makes it highly suited for large-scale manufacturing.
The organic growth of the fungal matter can also be manipulated into complex forms and shapes via the use of molds, making it easy to tailor the material to any one of a number of specific purposes. Ecovative says it is also capable of controlling the density of the material by timing the termination of the growth process.
The company is already experimenting with the use of mycelium for construction purposes. This month, Ecovative unveiled the Mushroom Tiny House, a modest-sized cabin the interior walls of which are fitted with mycelium insulation.
Ecovative’s Sam Harrington foresees broad applications for the innovative material.
“We see a future where Mushroom Materials are found in the bumper of your car, the walls of your home and inside your desk,” he said.
The company has already entered a partnership with Sealed Air Corporation, inventors of the now ubiquitous bubble wrap, to open a factory in Iowa for production of mycelium-based packaging materials, and has entered talks with electronics companies to develop packaging materials for laptops and tablet computers.
Harrington has grand ambitions for the company, hoping it will become a paradigm-shifting force in the field of green materials.
“Dow and Dupont spent the last 100 years turning petroleum and natural gas into all sorts of amazing plastics and materials,” Harrington said.
“We aim to be this century’s leader in sustainable materials.”