Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Magic Mushrooms and the Quest for a Circular Economy

Eban Bayer, co-founder of Ecovative, wrote an interesting article, for GOOD, about the need for a more circular economy. Circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, restorative and in which materials flows are of two types: biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere.

Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book Cradle to Cradle  describes a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient but also essentially waste free.  The model in its broadest sense is not limited to industrial design and manufacturing; it can be applied to many aspects of human civilization such as urban environments, buildings, economics and social systems.

Bayer's company has addressed this by creating a patented process that cleans and blends agricultural "castoffs" - parts of plants that can't be used for feed or food - and then innoculates them with mycelium.  The mycelium grows indoors in about a week without any need for light, watering or petrochemical inputs.  Every cubic inch of material contains a matrix of 8 miles of tiny mycelial fibers! At the end of the process, the materials are put through a dehydration and heat treating process to stop the growth. This final process ensures that there will never be any spores or allergen concerns.
The result is organic packaging that is grown from waste products and can be composted when it is no longer usable.  What's not to love about that?!  Ecovative is also working on using their Mushroom Materials for a variety of building applications, including insulation, structural insulating panels and acoustical tiles. These materials have low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), are fire resistant, and perform similarly to traditional synthetic materials.

For more examples of bio-adaptive approaches to manufacturing, check out these sites:

Biomimicry 3.8
Ask Nature
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Osmotic power plants

As conscious consumers we need to be aware of developments in the field of regenerative design, and support those companies that live the principles of sustainability and circular economy.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.