Answering the call for an eco-friendly solution to environmentally damaging packing materials, Ecovative Design has created a new niche in the green market by using mushroom-based material as part of their custom designed packaging blocks. The five-year-old New York company has attracted widespread attention thanks to their revolutionary product, and they now use the compostable mushroom material to make everything from building insulation to wine bottle shippers to candle holders. Big-name companies like Dell and Ford have partnered with Ecovative to use the mushroom material in innovative ways.

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Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, two engineering and design students from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded the company five years ago in what started as a class project housed under their beds. Bayer and McIntyre figured out a way to grow and bind mycelium together with seed husks and other agricultural byproducts. This allowed them to manipulate the mushroom-based product into different shapes.

The process beings by inoculating mycelium into pasteurized bits of seed husks or plant stalks. Then, it’s mixed into clear plastic molds shaped into various packaging pieces; this mix is then covered for five days, allowing millions of mycelium strands to grow around and through the feedstock, sticking like glue. The piece is then heat dried to kill the fungus in order to prevent mushrooms from sprouting. Since the mycelium is cloned, the product does not include spores, which can trigger allergies. While the packaging is also technically considered edible, Ecovative doesn’t recommend chowing down on it.

Ecovative now operates with 42 employees and has attracted more than $10 million in grants and equity investment, as well as big name clients like Ford and Dell. Ford uses the mushroom foam components in bumpers, side doors, and dashboards, while Dell has commissioned Ecovative to create compostable shipping material.

The company is now doubling their production space after signing deals with Sealer Air Corp, the makers of Bubble Wrap. Some of Ecovative current projects include packaging for footwear, self-repair roofing material, and a mycelium alternative to plastic office furniture.

One of the most exciting aspects of this new product is that it can be molded into various different pieces, completely eliminating the need for plastic and Styrofoam. Given the nature of the product, they can even be left on a compost pile. Unlike Styrofoam coffee cups, which might take decades to break down, Ecovative’s product will break down in six to nine months.

Via Associated Press

Photos courtesy of Ecovative Design