Mycological Biopolymer as a Replacement for Expanded Plastic FoamsEPA Contract Number: EPD15005
Title: Mycological Biopolymer as a Replacement for Expanded Plastic Foams
Investigators: Greetham, Lucy , Araldi, Sarah
Small Business: Ecovative Design, LLC
EPA Contact: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: November 1, 2014 through October 31, 2016 (Extended to October 31, 2017)
Project Amount: $295,579
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2014) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing
Plastics and petroleum-based foams are a conventional solution for the material needs of many industries. Today these non-biodegradable, fossil fuel derived products compose 13 percent of all municipal solid waste streams, as opposed to 1 percent in 1960. This waste stream is associated with a number of environmental concerns, including greenhouse gas generation from incineration, as well as land and water contamination through land filling. In addition, this waste stream has human health implications, as studies have shown bioaccumulation of toxins in the body. The constituents of these toxins are primarily used to produce plastics, and their accumulation results in negative effects on health and reproduction. Finally, the market costs for plastics are subject to the increasingly limited and expensive petroleum supply.
Under the Phase I initiative, Ecovative developed a new material manufacturing process that harnesses fungis tendency to fill a void space with a homogenous mycological biopolymer. This research resulted in a 100 percent bio-based and home compostable material that is completely composed of fungal mycelium (the vegetative tissue of a fungus) and has elastomeric properties similar to the commonly used foam ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). The proposed Phase II initiative seeks to continue scaled development of this cost-competitive process for producing a high-performance replacement for expanded plastics, which will allow for commercialization of the product. This research will be focused around cost reduction, scaled manufacturing and pilot production of the mycological polymer.
Ecovative, an award-winning sustainable materials company, will leverage its expertise and current intellectual property in mycelium-based materials during this undertaking. Ecovative has scaled previous technology and proven the economics of the mushroom material business by commercializing the MycoFoamTM platform in the protective packaging industry through a licensing partnership. The proposed mycological material to be scaled in the Phase II initiative is poised to replace EVA and expanded foams not addressable via the MycoFoamTM platform technology, as it exists today. There is industry demand for alternatives to EVA as shoe midsoles and baby play mats, as shown by letters of support. These applications will serve as a point of entry into commercial implementation of this new material while leveraging Ecovatives pilot facility for scaled production of the mycological biopolymer. The outcome of this research will be a novel bio-product, as well as a commercial platform for the proposed bio-product to transform material production, use and disposal in numerous high-volume industries that would otherwise consume significant amounts of plastic.