Company 'Grows' Compostable Styrofoam Alternative

We are all much too familiar with expanded polysterene foam (i.e. Styrofoam) packaging, but Ecovative Design has created Ecocradle, a biologically-based, compostable solution.

Agricultural waste products make up the bulk, or main body, of the packing material, which is held together by mushroom roots, or mycelium.

ecocradle foamEben Bayer is the CEO of Ecovative Design. "We source agricultural waste from around the world. So we have a regionalized or localized manufacturing process. If you're in the United States in the South you might use rice husks. In upstate New York where we're based we use things like buckwheat husks."

"So we take these seed husks, we wet them, we cook them, we put them in a mold. We then add a liquid slurry of these mushroom cells or mycelium. And then over five days, indoors, in the dark, they self-assemble, they grow into packaging parts."

Ecovative Design is also working on a new sterilization process that's key to the growth of the mushroom cells. They've developed a process using plant compounds that inhibit microbial growth, such as oils from cinnamon-bark, thyme, oregano and lemongrass. The process will reduce the amount of energy used by about one-fifth, meaning new versions of Ecocradle will use only one-fortieth the energy required to manufacture traditional foam packing materials.

This low-energy process will also free Ecovative Design from the traditional large-scale manufacturing operations required by most packing companies. Instead, it hopes to locate its factories as close as possible to both its agricultural suppliers and its end users. Bayer says this localized plan will save money and help the environment by reducing expensive transportation costs.

Ecovative Design also has its eye on replacing products in other markets, such as foam or fiberglass insulation, which they hope to replace with their Greensulate.

[Source: RCO in November 2010 WasteWatch ]