Growth of a Fungal Biopolymer to Displace Common Synthetic Polymers and Exotic Woods

EPA Contract Number: EPD13021
Title: Growth of a Fungal Biopolymer to Displace Common Synthetic Polymers and Exotic Woods
Investigators: Greetham, Lucy
Small Business: Ecovative Design, LLC
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: May 15, 2013 through November 14, 2013
Project Amount: $80,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing


The use of plastic (polyethylene, Polypropylene, polyurethane and poly lactic acid) has grown and continues to grow steadily because of the materials’ high strength-to-weigh ratios, low cost and ease of molding as compared to conventional natural materials. Unfortunately, almost all commercial plastics are notoriously unsustainable due to fossil fuel-based constituents, the wasteful and energy-intensive manufacturing processes used, and the difficulty or inability to compost at the end of life. Academic and industrial researchers have investigated recycling petroleum-based polymers, incorporating bio-derived polymers to reduce intake of petroleum, and pure biopolymers (cellulosic plastic, PH) to produce more biocompatible plastic with varying degrees of success, but all attempts have still fallen short of an ideal "bio-plastic."

The proposed concept is to demonstrate an ideal bio-plastic by using mycelium as the polymer, resin or structural matrix. Preliminary studies have shown basidiomycete stipe tissue offers similar mechanical properties as thermo set, unreinforced polyurethane and balsawood. This renewable, compostable material usually grows in the form of a fruiting body, which is inappropriate to use at a commercial scale due to the long production lead times. This grant proposes to research a process allowing for the growth of vegetative mycelium tissue into any desired shape. First, sterile tissue or a suspension of cells would be grown, homogenized, strained and pressed or injected into the desired shape. This material would then be incubated in specific environmental conditions or supplemented with natural materials to induce the desired hyphal (cellular) structure pertaining to the final preferred mechanical properties. Then the material would be heated to inactivate growth, producing a grown, rapidly renewable (5–10 days) biopolymer.
The basic approach to this Phase I SBIR is to find the most viable fungal tissue morphology, the optimal growth conditions and supplements (with nutrition of chemical inducers), and potential post-processing techniques through extensive experimentation and statistical analysis. The unique and potentially transformative concept of directly mycological polymers can be found nowhere commercially or in the literature. Ecovative, an award-winning start-up company, will leverage its expertise and current intellectual property in mycelium-based materials during this undertaking. Mycelium polymers could fit a broad range of markets including: automotive, transportation, biomedical, sports and consumer goods. These materials are truly sustainable since the entire structure consists of renewable materials that require significantly less energy to make because the materials are grown, or self assembled, instead of synthesized. The outcome of the proposed research will be a basic understanding of the obtainable materials properties and how to adjust their properties for particular markets. If successful with the mycelium polymers, Ecovative will be able to enter a very high-volume manufacture market that sorely needs more sustainable innovations.

Supplemental Keywords:

bio-plastic, mycological polymers, renewable

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Mycological Biopolymer as a Replacement for Expanded Plastic Foams  | Final Report