Testing the Viability of Agricultural Byproducts as a Replacement for Mineral Particles in a Novel, Low Embodied Energy, Construction Material

EPA Contract Number: EPD09018
Title: Testing the Viability of Agricultural Byproducts as a Replacement for Mineral Particles in a Novel, Low Embodied Energy, Construction Material
Investigators: Hook, Susan Van
Small Business: Ecovative Design, LLC
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: February 1, 2009 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Green Buildings , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


GreensulateTM is an affordable, biodegradable replacement for polystyrene/polyurethane foam building products, poised to replace petrol-foams in the rigid board insulation market.  This patent pending technology uses the vegetative growth stage of a benign fungus (mycelium: P.ostreatus, I.obliquus, F.formentarius A.arvensis) to bond loose particles into a cohesive whole.  The fungus operates as a self-assembling resin, thus the composite has a low embodied energy requiring no light, heat, or petroleum inputs during the growth process, emitting no hazardous byproducts or water contaminants.  Minerals (vermiculite, perlite) currently are implemented as the bulking particle within the insulating composite, which have yielded a comparable thermal conductivity to standard foams while exhibiting superior fire retardancy and safety (no related volatile organic compounds/allergens).  ASTM compliance testing for the mineral composite’s structural and water sorption properties is being conducted under a New York State grant, which also will produce full-scale prototypes and potential manufacturing techniques for commercial production.

The economic and environmental costs associated with the production and transport of the aforementioned minerals are significant enough to seek agricultural analogs.  Agricultural byproducts such as rice hulls, cottonseed hulls, and soybean hulls, have negligible commercial value and each has the potential to serve as a direct replacement for the minerals.  The key objective in implementing these agricultural byproducts is to reduce material expenses, maintain or improve the thermal characteristics, and increase composite biodegradability.  Greensulate is a multifunctional (insulation and firewall) construction material that could potentially retail for one-half the cost of petrol-foams, reducing a customer’s initial capital building expense.  The agricultural-based composite would create further economic incentives since the composite would be highly applicable for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation.

Ecovative Design is comprised of an experienced team of engineers and scientists focused on replacing petrol-foam products, such as insulation, with the GreensulateTM technology.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Fire Protection Engineering facilities have offered their additional expertise and equipment for testing the materials’ thermal properties and combustibility.  A potential commercialization partner has taken particular interest in the insulating composite in its nascent stage, and pending positive results this corporation will further pursue the technology and collaborate on manufacturing.  The Greensulate composite is applicable in a range of diverse industries beyond construction, including:  packaging materials, horticultural/agricultural products, and internalized rigid cores. 

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, rigid board insulation, foam building products, thermal conductivity, minerals, biodegradable, insulation, firewall, polystyrene, polyurethane, petrol-foam, low embodied energy, water sorption, agricultural byproducts, construction material,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Development and Demonstration of a Low Embodied Energy, Construction Material that Replaces Expanded Polystyrene and Other Synthetic Materials  | Final Report