Ecovative is taking on an important, intractable problem: foamed polystyrene. The question, as with many of its peers, is whether it is can take a good idea, and have a real impact on the way things are done.
The single greatest contributor to landfill, polystyrene is ubiquitous, practically non-biodegradable, toxic to marine and other life, and not really recyclable (it can be re-used, but the secondary product is often thrown away). And, until recently, there were few alternatives, save for not using it.
New York-based Ecovative is mixing agricultural waste, such as rice husks and oat hulls, with “fungal mycelium” (mushroom roots) to create super-strong materials that are fire-resistant, and use no heat, electricity, or oil to produce. It is already working with Dell andSteelcase on packaging materials, with Ford on bumpers and side doors, and getting into the construction materials and furniture markets.
But can it really reach its potential if it is has to grow, instead of manufacture, its products?
Chief scientist Gavin McIntyre is confident. In May, Ecovative received investment worth $6.5 million, including funding from 3M, and it recently acquired a building in Green Island, New York, where it will build its first full factory.
“It’s going to be like a vertical farm,” he says. “It’s got 30-foot ceilings. We’re going to have racks upon racks of incubating parts, which have a five-day growth cycle. They slowly transition through the staged rack, starting at one side, until they complete colonization and are on the other side, ready for processing. Our entire process is automated and continuous.”