Ecovative

On a Mission: Finding Life Cycle Environmental Solutions

A blog post by April Richards and Mary Wigginton highlighting EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program–“the small program with the big mission”–was recently posted by the U.S. Small Business Administration. A portion is reposted below.

Compostable packing for shipping wine

Read about EPA-supported innovative companies and their products, such as environmentally-friendly packaging (pictured), in the SBA blog post.

We often describe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as the small program with the big mission, to protect human health and the environment. The mission is big and the areas of focus are broad: air, water, climate change, waste and manufacturing. We strive to promote “greening” it all.

The President’s budget calls to equip the EPA with the best scientific information and research to underpin its regulatory actions and helps the agency find the most sustainable solutions for the wide range of environmental challenges facing the United States today. It supports high-priority research in such areas as air quality, sustainable approaches to environmental protection, and safe drinking water.

Through the years, the EPA SBIR program has supported advances in green technologies such as state-of-the-art monitoring devices and pollution clean-up systems and processes. Recently though, we have expanded to support companies whose ideas are launched from a foundation of life cycle assessment (LCA). This proactive approach means solving an environmental problem in a way that takes into account resources, feedstock, emissions, toxicity and waste.

While clean-up, containment systems, and other “end-of-pipe technologies” are still important for managing pollution and potential contaminants after they have been produced, we want to foster game-changers that reduce or eliminate their production in the first place.

Read the rest of the blog.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Sister Blog: Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership, recently shared a post featuring Ecovative, one of our favorite success stories!

Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

By Judith Enck

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

read more…

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Small Business Innovation is Mushrooming

Sometimes I worry that one of the enduring manmade wonders of our time will be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You know the Garbage Patch – the huge concentration of marine debris (mostly plastics) floating in the Pacific Ocean. It may still be there centuries from now. I wonder if a thousand years from now, tourists will visit the Garbage Patch the way we do the Roman Coliseum or the Pyramids. They’ll take pictures and stand there with their mouths agape wondering “how could they let this happen?”

Personally, I’m hopeful we can reduce the “greatness” of the garbage patch – and solve many of our other waste disposal problems – by reducing packaging or at least making it more sustainable.

Wine packaging

Wine packaging made from mushroom mycelium by Ecovative Design

More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Materials Science 101: Molding Mushrooms

By Dustin Renwick

Compostable packing for shipping wineYour new TV or fancy bottle of wine came in a cardboard box that can be recycled, but thanks to a small, eco-friendly business, those white packing pieces that cushion and protect consumer goods inside boxes could go a step further in the product life cycle.

Ecovative, located in New York, wants you to throw the packaging in your compost pile.

Typically, those pieces are made of polystyrene foam, which hangs around in landfills for hundreds of years after it’s been discarded. Ecovative can replace that foam with another white material: mycelium.

Fungi absorb nutrients with their mycelia. Think of them as the roots of a mushroom.

In a five-day process, Ecovative can grow mycelia into all-natural packaging. Better yet, mycelia don’t need water or light to curl and coil into a dense, customizable form that packs eight miles of fibers into each cubic inch of material.

The other major selling point for the mushroom-based materials is that they grow in agricultural waste streams that can be adapted to regional sources. Corn stalks can be used in the Midwest, but a factory in China could use castoffs from rice production. The mycelia grows throughout the organic mass until the mold is filled, and then Ecovative heats the material to stop growth.

The company won an EPA Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant in 2009, two years after co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre started out. It is also one of the new SBIR awardees announced today, each another potential success story. (Read Ecovative’s winning research proposal: Growth of a Fungal Biopolymer to Displace Common Synthetic Polymers and Exotic Wood.)

“EPA was first to take the leap and validate this tech,” said McIntyre, the company’s chief scientist.

“The EPA SBIR was really critical for our early stage of development for several reasons. One of the most important was the peer-reviewed validation. And the funding really supported early-stage efforts in moving from the lab bench to a commercially viable prototype production line.”

Bayer, the company’s CEO, recently told The New Yorker that Ecovative aspires to be the new Dow or Dupont. McIntyre said those companies represent ubiquity for consumer products.

“We’d like to be the same,” he said. “We want to have the broadest impact possible in terms of providing environmentally friendly solutions.”

McIntyre and Bayer started small, but their company now employs 54 full-time workers overseeing projects such as new construction materials, opportunities in the automotive market, and a way to replace common plastics in packaging. The work has attracted more EPA SBIR contracts and other awards.

In May, the Small Business Administration recognized Ecovative with the Tibbetts Award, which highlights the best SBIR projects each year. The three criteria for the Tibbetts are technical innovation, business impact and broader social and economic benefit.

Mushroom materials are innovative, durable alternatives to products we often use but rarely think about. In fact, there’s a chance parts of your next house might be grown instead of fabricated or built, adding a new twist to living in harmony with nature.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Thinking Outside the (Polystyrene) Box

EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck presents Ecovative Design co-founder Eben Bayer with EPA's Environmental Quality Award at the company's Green Island, NY facility on April 19.

By Larisa Romanowski

What better time than Earth Week to recognize the innovators among us – the companies and the employees that are truly making a difference.

We all know that our petroleum-based packaging materials, like polystyrene, have serious environmental consequences. So what if there was a practical and environmentally-friendly alternative? Now there is. And believe it or not, it’s made from mushrooms.

The completely compostable polystyrene substitute was the brain child of Ecovative Design co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre who developed the technology during their senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The packaging product called EcoCradle, is made from the mushrooms “roots”, called mycelium. To make the biodegradable packaging, the mushrooms are given agricultural wastes (like seed husks) which they digest to transform into a white material that is placed into molds. There, the shape forms and dries within five days, by which point the mushroom is no longer a live material.

And business is booming. Since opening the company in 2007, they’ve already expanded their facilities and now employ more than 40 workers. The Environmental Protection Agency was an early supporter of the company’s research, awarding them two Small Business Innovation and Research Grants in 2009 and 2010 totaling $295,000. Today, with contracts in place with companies like Dell and Crate and Barrel, the future looks bright for the young eco-entrepreneurs.

One of the things that the EPA can do to support green businesses is to recognize their important work. So, last week EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck visited Ecovative Design in Green Island, NY to present them with EPA’s Environmental Quality Award and tour their expanding facilities.

So often we’re forced to focus on our environmental problems, so it’s refreshing when we can take time to celebrate the solutions. Kudos to Ecovative Design for thinking outside the (polystyrene) box.

About the Author: Larisa Romanowski is a Community Involvement Coordinator stationed at the EPA Region 2 Hudson River Field Office in Hudson Falls, NY. When she’s not discussing the cleanup of the Hudson River, she enjoys exploring the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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