Two students at RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) came up with an organic solution to rigid insulation called Greensulate that requires next to zero energy, outperforms standard insulation, is water-repellent and even flame-retardant (a claim that styrofoam insulation cannot make).
The secret ingredient — mushrooms. Eben Bayer, while still a student, founded his company with partner Gavin McIntyre called Ecovative Design, which seeks to take this and other innovative sustainable building products to market by 2010.
The patented "mushroom technology" takes advantage of the mushroom's mycelia — thousands of tiny but tough threads which quickly grow through a substrate in search of nourishment. Greensulate coats perlite with agricultural waste high in cellulose (like ground buckwheat hulls) and adds in thousands of mushrooms spores. As the mycelia digests the cellulose, it grows millions of mycelia which then bind with the perlite making a tough rigid board with almost magical properties. And the material is completely nontoxic and biodegradable.
Scientists such as mycologist Paul Stamets are becoming increasingly aware of the almost limitless technological prowess of the lowly mushroom. From neutralizing toxic waste and biological weapons, to providing high-potency foods and medicines and (now) growing building materials, the Fungi Perfecti certainly deserve further study.
Also on MNN