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Foam and plastic packaging replaced by mushroom, commercial developments in algae-based bioplastics

Foam and plastic packaging replaced by mushroom, commercial developments in algae-based bioplastics

30-Sep-13

Mushrooms are being used to create eco-friendly packaging and insulation materials. Ecovative Design, a revolutionary new biomaterials company in USA, is taking local farm waste and mixing it with tissues from mushrooms and growing replacements for plastic foams used in protective packaging. One of the compay's goals is to develop packaging materials that not only decompose faster and more naturally, but also give back to the ecosystem. They do this by utilizing mycelium, the microscopic root structure that allows mushrooms to grow on trees and spread throughout the forest floor. The initial concept of using mushroom roots, or mycelium, as a resin was inspired by mycelium growing through woodchips and holding them together. The final concept evolved upon a collaboration with McIntyre. Local agricultural waste, such as corn stalks and husks, is cleaned and then mixed with mycelium. The mixture is incubated for about two days before being ground up and packed into molds. After allowing the mycelium to grow and fill out for about three more days, the molds are baked in a low-temperature oven to prevent further growth. They are then removed from the molds and trimmed to fit as packaging pieces for electronics, car parts, and more. "We actually never grow mushrooms," Bayer explains. "We just keep the mycelium in this vegetative growth stage where it's always making more of this root structure." This packaging biodegrades in just a few months, much quicker than traditional polystyrene. It also adds helpful nutrients back into the soil. The company is currently developing insulation for houses, using the same mushroom root growth structure to create a layer between the interior walls and exterior siding. The mycelium growth between the walls provides insulation, structure, and even an extra layer of protection for homes. The mycelium itself acts as a sort of fire retardant.

Cereplast, Inc., a leading manufacturer of proprietary biobased, compostable and sustainable bioplastics, is advancing in the research and development stage in preparation to bring to the market a more sustainable and cost efficient process for the development of algae bioplastic resins. By using an algae biomass selection process in which food-based materials are not fed to the algae for growth, the food chain is not impacted, increasing sustainability. The material is also expected to lower costs in algae bioplastics development by deploying post-industrial processes, enabling the re-use of materials. Algaeplast, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cereplast, develops algae-based bioplastics, leveraging post-industrial processes such as nutrient recovery from effluent waste streams and from carbon dioxide sequestration systems. As the algae biomass derived from these processes have already served a primary purpose, the secondary use of the material results in cost savings and increased efficiency due to material re-usage. In addition, Algaeplast does not use algae fed with food-based materials for growth. Algaeplast has four demonstration grades of algae in polypropylene with an algae biomass content from 15-51%. A newly commercialized grade includes algae in a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). These grades show the ability for Algaeplast to formulate with algae biomass in TPE, polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene (PE), Ethylene Acrylate (EA), and other polymers. The ability to make algae biomass compatible in polymers has been practiced by Cereplast for several years.

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