Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mushroom Formed Mesh Foam Displaces Styrene

This item is a transcript from the lecture linked to below.  They are able fill a mold which contains inoculated filling material which is typically farm waste, but could just as easily be wood chips.  The contained mushrooms process the filler to produce a tight packed foam forming mesh that can then be sterilized to stabilize it.

We end up with a foam product able to compete with Styrofoam head on that is truly biodegradable.  I suspect that cost can never be as low but then we obviously have to charge Styrofoam for the true cost of disposal to society.  Particularly since it is clearly a huge problem to society.  A simple per ton charge to apply to landfill costs will surely redress that.  Since it is presently a huge percentage of content, it will be easy to determine the bill.

My point of course, is that removal of Styrofoam is desirable but not particularly practical until now.  Here we have a similar product that naturally biodegrades.

Taking this a step further, we could have the production of this new product naturally distributed close to demand and use it to consume local agricultural waste.  It is a natural small industry that could easily fit into the local farm community.  The major obvious cost here will be storage for holding molds while the five day grow out takes place.  A farm could easily have such storage available and they are in the growing business.

Filling molds on demand is well within their mandate.

Eben Bayer co-invented MycoBond, a technology that uses a filamentous fungi to transform agricultural waste products into strong composite materials. Or, as CNN put it: "In non-scientific terms, they grind up seed husks and glue the small pieces together with mushroom root." Their products include packaging and styrofoam substitute and the now-in-development Greensulate rigid insulation board for builders. Both products require less energy to create than synthetics like foam, because they're quite literally grown. Equally compelling, at the end of their useful life, they can be home-composted or even used as garden mulch.

"There are three principles that should govern better materials. Firstly, they should be able to be created almost anywhere on the planet. Secondly, they should require considerably less energy to produce than current materials. Lastly, they should be able to be disposed of by nature's wonderful open-source recycling system."
Eben Bayer,

But first, I need to talk to you about what I consider one of the most egregious offenders in the disposable plastics category. This is a material you all know is Styrofoam, but I like to think of it as toxic white stuff. In a single cubic foot of this material -- about what would come around your computer or large television -- you have the same energy content of about a liter and a half of petrol. Yet, after just a few weeks of use, you'll throw this material in the trash. And this isn't just found in packaging. 20 billion dollars of this material is produced every year, in everything from building materials to surfboards to coffee cups to table tops. And that's not the only place it's found. The EPA estimates, in the United States, by volume, this material occupies 25 percent of our landfills. Even worse is when it finds its way into our natural environment -- on the side of the road or next to a river. If it's not picked up by a human, like me and you, it'll stay there for thousands and thousands of years. Perhaps even worse is when it finds its way into our oceans, like in the great plastic gyre, where these materials are being mechanically broken into smaller and smaller bits, but they're not really going away. They're not biologically compatible. They're basically fouling up Earth's respiratory and circulatory systems. And because these materials are so prolific, because they're found in so many places, there's one other place you'll find this material, styrene, which is made from benzine, a known carcinogen. You'll find it inside of you.

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