Mushrooms Are Masters of Design

mycelium, mycelium brick, plastic substitute, sustainability -

Mushrooms Are Masters of Design

What if we could grow better materials? Things like totally biodegradable packaging. Or insulation crafted from soybean pods and wood chips? Or what about foam alternatives for shoes and clothing?

Meet Ecovative.

This innovative company is harnessing the design power of mushrooms to create durable, lightweight and completely biodegradable packaging material using agricultural waste and mycelium.

That’s right, they’re taking waste products like hemp and combining it with mycelium, creating custom packing material. Mycelium is that white, webby stuff you find any time you roll a log over in the woods. It's essentially the "roots" of mushrooms and it grows everywhere underground. It's the original world wide web!

Mushrooms are creative, something we never really think about. Place a substrate - a food source like hemp or wood chips - in a mold and add mycelium. The mycelium will grow throughout the material, acting almost like a glue, resulting in a solid form.

Ecovative now produces packing material, among other innovative products, using that process. They create custom molds for specific packing forms, then fill them with hemp and mycelium. Given a little time, the mycelium covers the substrate, resulting in a solid, lightweight material that’s completely biodegradable and perfect for shipping. Like wood, it can be sealed to make it more impervious to water and the elements.

Unlike traditional styrofoam or those pesky packing peanuts, when you’re finished using the mushroom packing material, it can be placed outside where it will break down from exposure to light and the elements. 

Danielle Trofe has taken things to another level. She creates beautiful, mushroom lamps. Following a similar procedure that Ecovative uses, she molds mycelium into the shape of a lampshade and attaches it to a base, creating a unique, sustainable and biodegradable lamp.

Think of the other possibilities. Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain is developing mycelium bricks. They’re naturally fireproof and an insulating material, perfect for building something like an outdoor pizza oven.  

One of the exciting things about these applications is mushrooms are incredibly sustainable. They grow on spent agricultural material, taking these things out of the already crowded waste stream. Growing mushrooms is relatively easy, and can be done in just about any climate. On a small scale, it doesn’t take much space and innovative mycologists continue to find low tech (and inexpensive) ways to grow more mushrooms. To create mycelium products is even easier. The goal is to simply get the mycelium to grow across the substrate and act like a glue, creating a shape that becomes permanent and solid.

Eben Bayer, the co-founder of Ecovative, gave an inspiring TED Talk describing how Ecovative grows packing material. His passion is infectious. He’s working to expand this mycelium production to replace our use of plastics.

According to the Ecovative website:

“. . . we believe there is a better way to feed the planet and reduce the amount of plastic used in consumer products. Our mission is to grow better materials that are compatible with Earth.”

What if each of us experimented with the creative design capabilities of mushrooms. Imagine the things we could grow for our everyday use. We could reduce our dependence on petroleum-based things like plastic packing material. We could develop unique building materials. We’re really only limited by our imagination. Let's get creative with fungi!


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