Though standard insulation products are great for conserving energy in the home, they come with a high environmental price tag. Most are made from non-biodegradable materials, like petroleum-based styrofoam, or require high temperatures to produce, like fiberglass. And once disposed, they will never biodegrade.
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.
The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.