Environmental enthusiasts have a laundry list of complaints about the wide-spread use of Styrofoam in packing materials, insulation and of course, coffee cups. Back in 1986, the Styrofoam industry was declared to be the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. And that’s before the argument about it taking up landfill space. Portland, Oregon, Orange County, California and Taiwan are among places that have outlawed Styrofoam. But now science is coming to the rescue with mushrooms.
It’s not quite peanuts, but Ecovative Design is a group of engineers who have created a spongy, moldable material from mushroom roots. Well, they’re called mycelia strands to be exact. Instead of earth, a couple of scientists use a bed of buckwheat husks to grow the intertwining roots. They place the material in a mold to achieve the desired shape while growing. Within a couple of weeks the fibers are densely packed together. It is then dried in an oven at low temperature. And voila, it’s ready for use. Because it can be molded, the possibilities for use span the spectrum from packaging material to insulation to infinity and beyond.
The people behind this invention are Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre who became fascinated with mushrooms growing on woodchips while they were students at Rensselaer University. Their ideas were incubated in the Inventor’s Studio class. They give lot of kudos to the professor of the class. Meanwhile their idea has been funded through grants and money from competitions such as Green Challenge. They even made it on CNN’s focus on “Young People who Rock.” With their completely compostable material, they envision a future packed with green solutions to recycling problems coming mostly out of their labs. No word on whether the material is suitable for coffee cups, but possibilities could exist for a packing material burger.
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