Having fungus in your walls is usually a cause for alarm. But Eben Bayer, CEO of Evocative Design, a firm that makes sustainable products, said in a speech Wednesday afternoon that mushroom-based insulation could offer a green alternative to synthetic foam.
Bayer spoke in front of a crowd of about 40 in Kroon Hall as part of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ Industrial Environmental Management Program lecture series. Bayer said he hopes his company’s insulation and packing products, which cost approximately the same as synthetic foams, will reduce the use of petroleum-based products.
Claiming that Styrofoam remains in landfill for thousands of years, Bayer also pointed to the use of artificial foams as a strain on the world’s oil resources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups away each year.
“We’re setting us up for a systemic collapse,” Bayer said. “We have accepted that there is a finite amount of these resources but we use them for everything.”
Evocative Design currently produces biodegradable, fungi-based insulating material called Greensulate as well as a similar packing material called EcoCradle, Mayer said. These materials are formed by mixing a resin made from the fibrous roots of mushrooms, called mycelia, with another agriculture byproduct such as rice husks or corn husks, Bayer said. This mixture of mycelia and other organic material is stored in a cast in a heated environment to give the mycelia a chance to spread. After five days, the mycelia have formed a tightly-woven network of fibers and after being dried, they share a similar texture and density with synthetic materials such as Styrofoam. Evocative Design customized machines used by other industries to manufacture their products, Bayer said.
Bayer emphasized that the company does not include the spore-producing region of the mushroom in its products because spore inhalation is dangerous.
Throughout the testing phases, Bayer said mushroom-based materials are both fire and water resistant, features that are drawing both potential customers and investors to support the company. Evocative Design projects have received funding from groups such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the Environmental Protection Agency. The company also received 500,000 euros to purchase a site for a factory and to hire new workers from a green venture capital challenge.
A 2007 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Mayer started Evocative Design with Gavin McIntyre while the two were still seniors at the school. He explained that he quit his first job after college on the first day to pursue Evocative Design full time. Bayer said that despite coming from engineering rather than a business background, he did not find it to be a problem.
“People are willing to show you more things when they think you’re just a goofy college kid,” he joked.
Bayer said a major goal of Evocative Design is to eventually produce a durable and biodegradable building material to replace traditional plastic.
This year’s Industrial Environmental Management Program lectures are focusing on innovative methods for reusing and recycling waste, said Reid Lifset, the associate director for the Industrial Environmental Management Program. Upcoming speakers in the series include representatives from electronics recycling firm AER Worldwide.