Ecovative Design, a start-up in Green Island, New York, is collaborating with both Dell and Ford to develop eco-friendly packaging and car parts made from mushrooms. The fungus-based biodegradable foam will be used by Dell for commercial packaging of computers and electronic products, while Ford will develop automotive bumpers, side doors and dashboards made from the material.
In a recent blog post, Dell revealed that as part of its sustainable packaging strategy, it would launch a pilot for mushroom based packaging. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US EPA, and the USDA, Dell claim that this advanced biotechnology would replace styrofoam and polyethylene which is currently used as cushioning for packaging.
Oliver Campbell, Procurement Director for Dell said: “We’ve tested the mushroom cushioning extensively in the lab to ensure it meets our same high standards to safely protect our products during shipment - and it passed like a champ."
But how is it made? Well, waste products like cotton hulls are placed in a mould which is then inoculated with mushroom spawn. The mushroom cushions take between five and 10 days to grow as the spawn, which becomes the root structure (mycelium). Campbell added: "All the energy needed to form the cushion is supplied by the carbohydrates and sugars in the ag waste. There's no need for energy based on carbon or nuclear fuels. Now you know why there has been such interest in mushroom packaging."
READ OTHER TOP STORIES IN THE WDM CONTENT NETWORK:
As well as working with Dell, Ecoative Design will also collaborate with Ford on a variety of car parts and components. Although the material will have to go through stringent safety requirements, the mushroom components are fire and water proof which decomposes a month after it has been buried in soil.
Gavin McIntyre, 25, Chief Scientist and Co-Founder of Ecovative said: "You would be able to compost your car."
Currently, Ford uses soy-based foam for seat cushions, however the automaker wants to replace around 30 pounds of petroleum-based foam per car with eco-friendly alternatives. Ensuring consistent growth of a living organism is a real challenge according to Ford's Technical Leader of Plastics Research Deborah Mielewski. “When you're growing a plant, what are the chances that these roots are perfectly consistent throughout?” said Mielewski.