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article imageInsulate Your Home with Mushrooms

By Bob Ewing     Jun 25, 2007 in Business
Once again mushrooms are more than a pizza topping. Two young entrepreneurs will soon be hitting the green building market with Greensulate, insulation that is mushroom based.
When we think of mushrooms our mind may call up images of pizza and omelets but rarely building material. Fortunately Eben Bayer was able to see beyond the traditional uses for mushrooms and is creating an organic insulation that is made from mushrooms.
Bayer grew up on his father’s farm and became familiar with the possibilities of mushrooms there. He has recently graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and he is ready to take the knowledge he gained working on Dad’s farm and the knowledge he leaned at school and bring an organic insulation to the eco-building marketplace.
While at school Bayer was given two years to create a sustainable insulation. His mushroom experience had him convinced that mushrooms were the perfect material.
Bayer’s partner in this venture is Gavin McIntyre who has an interest in sustainable technology. Together they created Greensulate and patented the formula. Greensulate is an organic, fire-retardant board made of water, flour, oyster mushroom spores and perlite, a mineral blend found in potting soil.
Greensulate is about a year away from entering the market place as there still is some research and development to conduct. The duo will also need more sophisticated equipment and a new work space so that they can continue to develop this organic insulation.
"We've been growing the material under our beds," said McIntyre, adding that they've applied for a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
Bayer is 21, and McIntyre 22 graduated in May from RPI with dual majors in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation.
"I think it has a lot of potential, and it could make a big difference in people's lives. It's sustainable, and enviro-friendly, it's not based on petrochemicals and doesn't require much energy or cost to make it." lives RPI Professor Burt Swersy
The product is competitive with most insulation products that are currently on the market, according to recent tests conducted by National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The market for green building products is growing and two other products may offer the pair some competition. For example, insulation made from denim scraps and another made from 100 percent recycled paper both are sold by Environmental Home Center
Bayer and McIntyre searched through 800 patents before they were convinced that they had something unique. One plus that their product has is that it is not made from pre-existing materials and it uses little energy in the production process because it is grown.
A mixture of water, mineral particles, starch and hydrogen peroxide are poured into 7-by-7-inch molds and then injected with living mushroom cells. The hydrogen peroxide is used to prevent the growth of other specimens within the material.
Placed in a dark environment, the cells start to grow, digesting the starch as food and sprouting thousands of root-like cellular strands. A week to two weeks later, a 1-inch-thick panel of insulation is fully grown. It's then dried to prevent fungal growth, making it unlikely to trigger mold and fungus allergies, according to Bayer. The finished product resembles a giant cracker in texture.
The duo’s next step is to grow larger pieces of Greensulate which will be used to build a wall. Further testing will take place to determine how the insulation will stand up to the elements. They have one piece that is already two years old and still doing fine.
"Our biggest challenge is that while we have this technology, we still have a lot of research to do. The key is to really make sure we have a product that is mature and robust before we bring it to the market."
This innovation in action was made possible because the two young men were able to work together and draw on different skills that increased the abilities of both the partners.
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