New York-based Ecovative Design is no stranger to accolades from PopSci, having garnered an Invention Award and a Best of What's New mention in recent years, not to mention a shout-out in our latest homage to bio-inspired design. So allow us to bestow yet more praise upon the eco-friendly foam maker for their latest endeavor: making automobile components out of mushrooms.
Ecovative's chief innovation is a foam made of mycelia (mushroom roots) and agricultural wastes like seed husks and other throwaway organics that can replace styrofoam and polystyrenes in a variety of applications, like packaging materials and home insulation. Now the young company is teaming with Ford to replace the petroleum based foams and insulators in dashboards, bumpers, and door panels to make at least part of the automobile compostable.
Ford, to its credit, is looking to cut down on about 30 pounds of petrol-based foams in its automobiles, and has explored a handful of more eco-friendly options. Ecovative's foam offered Ford several advantages; aside from being cost competitive with petroleum-based products, it is also fireproof and waterproof. And, when buried at the end of its life, Ecovative's foam will decompose in about a month.
Ecovative still has some production challenges to iron out--in order to fullfill its goal of rendering styrofoam and polystyrene products obsolete, the company (which has about 30 employees) will have to show that it is capable of growing its mycelium products in industrially sustainable quantities, and to a quality and consistency that allows companies like Ford to pass rigorous safety reviews.
But with $4 million in grants and competition winnings to help the company further refine its production process and find more potential applications for its mycelium-based foam, expect to see it sprouting up in more places.
I have a car thats 20+ years old. What would keep this product from decomposing during a cars active life? Do i have to get these components replaced every 5 years?
...IF it's waterproof, how does it decompose? The only option I can derive here is that it's consumable by bacteria or perhaps carrion. So you'll have to get an exterminator for your vehicle from time to time. I think the big picture is being missed here in that polystyrenes are 100% recyclable, no need for putting it into the ground. How about investing in recycling initiatives? It would create more jobs than mushroom farming and help the economy far more than biodegradable form products.
awesome, 'shroom car.
@Turbo two tone- I think your missing the point. this is about oil. Almost every aspect of what goes into making a car NEEDS oil... plastics, rubber, the actual fuel...so since the end of oil is in all of our near future, it makes sense to implement renewable, eco-friendly methods to replace oil-based parts.
This is Sam from Ecovative.
I want to address your questions about biodegradability. I want to point out that you're probably wearing a natural and biodegradable cotton shirt, and sitting in a largely wooden biodegradable building. Like these other natural materials, our materials won't break down unless they are exposed to water and active soil cultures for weeks. In a car, they would be used in dry internal areas, so they would easily last for the lifetime of a car.
Right on Cogito... we need new materials for the post-oil age!
Sam is absolutely right. I can't believe anyone would even try to defend polystyrenes. They are toxic to create and toxic to recycle. Whereas, mushrooms and organic materials actually reduce CO2.