Eben Bayer is the CEO and co-founder Ecovative, the company providing sustainable alternatives to plastics and plastic foams for packaging, building materials and other applications by using mushroom technology. His TED talk is an inspiring call to action for both designers and consumers seeking innovative alternatives to plastic. You can read more of his insights in Post-Petroleum Design, and here's an excerpt for you:
GE: The versatility of your technology is remarkable; you're already marketing or exploring packaging, building insulation, even padding for ocean buoys that will warn us of tsunamis. Its versatility reminds me of plastic, but without all the environmental ill effects. Do you see the synergy of natural materials and innovative processes like yours reducing our reliance on petroleum-based products?
EB: Companies like Dow and Dupont have been leading the way in material design for the past 100 years by turning petroleum and natural gas into plastics and other materials. These materials can take millions of years to break down and are therefore filling up our landfills and waterways. Ecovative aims to resolve this issue by becoming this century’s material leader. Unlike plastics and foams, our materials are bio-based, sustainable, and are actually good for the environment. As long as people continue to be concerned about their environmental impact, there is no end to the applications of our materials. In the future, Mushroom Materials might be found in the bumper of your car, the walls of your home, or even inside your desk.
GE: You use agricultural byproducts like plant stalks and seed husks as opposed to the feed stocks like corn and soybeans that most bioplastics rely on. Do you think that non-food stocks like yours will eventually replace edible feed stocks as the raw materials for bioplastics?
EB: One of the main advantages of our product is that we can grow our mycelium around and through almost all natural products. By using agricultural byproducts, our material gains a competitive advantage over other bioplastic companies that use feed stocks to create their materials. Ideally, we will see more companies take the approach of upcycling materials, rather than creating a material that is level with its starting point.
GE: Products and technologies as far ahead of their time as yours often face resistance from consumers who may not understand or be ready for them yet. Insulation made from mushrooms, for example, undoubtedly raises some fears of mold growth. How do you overcome that resistance and help move society and its thinking about new materials and their benefits forward into such uncharted territory?
EB: Thankfully, most people recognize the damage humans have been doing to the Earth and want to help in some way. Our product is a viable alternative to many of the materials that are contributing to this damage. Once people find out that our materials are cost-competitive, fire resistant, tunable in performance, continually pass quality testing, and are free of spores, allergens, and mold, using our product just makes sense. The push from government agencies to steer away from Styrofoam and plastic reliance has also been tremendous in the success of our company.