Ecovative was founded in 2007 by two RPI graduates, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre. They started the company with nothing but a good idea to revolutionize the way materials are made. Shortly after founding the company, they won small grants from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). This funding was used to create initial samples of the material. This proof of concept enabled the company to win bigger grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further develop the products. Since then they've won a few more awards and grants that have enabled the company to continue to grow and accelerate toward production of these revolutionary eco-friendly materials.
How did you invent this stuff?
Eben and Gavin were fascinated by mushrooms growing on wood chips, and observing how the fungal mycelium strongly bonded the wood chips together. This inspired them to think of new ways of using mycelium as a resin. In a class at Rensselaer, called Inventors Studio, they applied this new process for binding together insulating particles, creating Greensulate™. Rather than decreasing the environmental impact of conventional polystyrene foams, this invention creates a whole new paradigm where composite materials are literally grown, harnessing the incredible efficiency of nature.
What other applications are there for your materials?
Eventually we hope to replace all sorts of materials that are synthetic or energy intensive to produce. We envision a world where wind turbine blade cores, surfboard cores, cups, and other foam based products are produced using sustainable and natural alternatives, like Greensulate™.
Why are you doing this?
Today we are facing the rapid depletion of nonrenewable resources. Everyone from farmers, to engineers, to designers, to builders are starting to realize that we have a finite amount of the resources that we can turn into plastics, foams and metals. We need to switch to not just renewable energy, but also renewable materials. Ecovative is leading the way to create truly sustainable materials which perform as well as the synthetics we use today.
Are your materials made out of mushrooms?
No. We use fungal mycelium, which is basically the roots of mushrooms. The mycelium acts as a resin to bond agricultural byproducts together into a rigid material. We don't let the mycelium grow long enough to produce mushrooms. That means you never have to worry about spores or allergens.
What else is Ecovative doing to combat climate change and resource depletion?
Most of our employees walk or bike to work (even in the snow!) and others carpool when possible. Not only is the production of our materials extremely energy efficient, but we use energy efficient laptops and light bulbs in our offices. We strive to reduce waste in every way; whether it's drinking loose fill tea instead of using tea bags or banning foam plates and cups. Around the office we try to stay paper-less, but we use 100% post-consumer recycled paper when we have to print. We reuse or repurpose office furniture left out in the trash, shelving from a remodeled grocery store, five gallon peanut butter buckets from the local food co-op, and only buy new equipment when absolutely necessary. We all love hiking and spending time outside, and some of our team volunteers with local student environmental groups and organic community food gardens. – less–ZoomInfo