Search Results for: ecovative

Seeding Environmental Innovation

By April Richards

EPA's Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

I love my job, but every so often it’s a good idea to get one’s professional batteries re-charged. Recently our EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team had the chance to do just that when we attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference. We spent three days getting our annual dose of inspiration by meeting environmental entrepreneurs, the managers of the other 10 federal SBIR programs, and many successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.

The conference kicked off with a celebration of successes—the announcement of the annual Tibbetts Awards. Small Business Administration (SBA) officials, SBIR program managers and awardees gathered in one of the stunning 19th century rooms of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Surrounded by marble walls, 800-pound bronze sconces and elaborately tiled floors, we recognized the companies, individuals and organizations who received one of the 32 “Tibbies” awarded this year. PCI Corporation, a past EPA SBIR company, was among this year’s winners.

While it was gratifying to see one of EPA’s SBIR companies recognized, I was inspired personally by the special recognition of Roland Tibbets, the “Father of SBIR.” The SBIR program was an innovation in 1976 when Tibbetts piloted the program to champion small business’ access to federal funding for research and development. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet honored Tibbett’s memory saying, “His work revolutionized the innovation landscape in this country and further improved its economic vitality.”

After the awards, conference participants attended workshops and panel discussions on nuts and bolts, future directions, and SBIR success stories. During the conference keynote address, the SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet highlighted one of those success stories. She briefly told the story of one EPA SBIR awardee, Ecovative Design, that is using mushrooms to create sustainable building materials and said, “That’s what SBIR is all about!”

I wanted to stand up and cheer, “That IS what EPA’s SBIR Program is all about – seeding innovation AND making a difference for the environment.” But I just smiled like a proud parent, remembering how every day EPA helps small businesses translate their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems.

Later in the day, we got down to the business of talking to small business owners. Over two days we spoke to over a hundred entrepreneurs about their ideas for environmental technologies and how the process for SBIR funding works.

The most asked question – “Is my idea a good fit for EPA’s program?” EPA’s next solicitation opens this summer and includes a broad range of topics. My hope is that our presentations and one-on-one communications will help the next group of small businesses navigate their way to success.

I like to say that EPA’s SBIR is a small program with a big mission. Now that we’re back in the office, re-inspired and re-charged, we’re more ready than ever to get back to the awesome work of seeding innovation to protect the environment.


About the Author: April Richards joined EPA in 2001 and is Program Manager for the Agency’s SBIR Program.  She appreciates the practicality and commercial edge that small businesses bring to environmental protection.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap- Holiday Edition

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the Agency,
Our researchers were working, so much discovery!

Is there one place, where all this can be found?
One science review, no looking around?

Here’s my present to you, no need to unwrap
Right here on this blog, your Research Recap!



  • Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting
    EPA’s Dr. Michael Hiscock recently attended the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting where he convened a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Dr. Hiscock shared his experience on the blog.
    Read more.
  • New Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water
    EPA along with other federal agencies and private partners announced the Nutrient Sensor Challenge. The challenge will help accelerate the development of sensors that can be deployed in the environment to measure nutrients in our country’s waterways. Its goal is to have new, affordable sensors up and running by 2017.
    Read more.
  • Growing Environmentally-Friendly Packaging Out of Mushrooms
    Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer were awarded an EPA Small Business Innovative Research grant in 2009 to fund their research for Ecovative, a biodesign company. Using the roots of mushrooms, Ecovative turns agricultural waste into “green” packing materials, insulation and even surfboards. Their business was recently featured on National Public Radio.
    Read more.
    And check out Gavin McIntyre’s It All Starts with Science blog on Ecovative.
  • The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology
    Listen to EPA’s Gina McCarthy and other women from across the Administration tell the stories of their personal heroes across the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
    Listen to the stories here.


If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

Happy Holidays!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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…


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


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.


Are Mushrooms the new Styrofoam™?

By Gavin McIntyre

I started my career in advanced biomaterials after recognizing a problem that faces anyone who purchases items on the Internet, from frozen food to consumer electronics. Once you open your package, what do you do with all the bulky foam that’s not easily recycled?

Plastics and foams are ubiquitous in our everyday lives and serve a valuable role in many industries. But these materials are predominately derived from fossil fuels and most are not compostable. This creates a real problem when these materials are used in short-term applications like packaging, where their useful life lasts months at best. This is a concern for many municipalities since non-compostable synthetics continue to accumulate and fill landfills beyond their capacity.

Our goal was to develop compostable materials that are not derived from fossil fuels and do not require an exorbitant amount of energy to manufacture. In seeking to design an alternative, we took advantage of domestic waste streams that are abundant and rapidly renewable. These raw materials fit into nature’s recycling system and are beneficial to the environment once their useful lifecycle is complete.

Today our biomaterials replace the plastic foams used in the protective packaging and construction industries. Our technology uses the vegetative tissue from mushrooms, a vast network of unicellular filaments known as mycelium, as a natural adhesive to bind agricultural byproducts into a robust, foam-like material.

Our products are grown to the desired shape in just five days, and all the energy for growing the fungus comes from the agricultural waste. But most importantly these materials are safe (styrene was recently deemed a carcinogen), entirely home compostable, and comparable in cost to plastic foams.

Compostable packing for wine bottles.

A friend of mine, Eben Bayer, and I started Ecovative in 2007 right out of college to challenge this synthetic material paradigm. We needed a lot of support to get our nascent technology off the lab bench and into the market place. As two mechanical engineers, we first solicited the help of mycologist (mushroom biologist) Sue Van Hook.

We applied for an EPA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant to fund our research, which was awarded in early 2009. This Phase 1 award allowed us to optimize fungal strains and agricultural wastes necessary to approach potential customers. Today we operate two manufacturing facilities in upstate New York with 70 employees.  We will be opening two additional facilities in the U.S. over the next two years with a commercial partner, adding many new jobs to the economy. Everyday we come to work we leave satisfied that the products we literally grow offer a “green” alternative for packaging.

So hopefully next time you unbox you new computer you can put the packaging in your garden rather than sending it off to a landfill.

About the Author: Gavin McIntyre was the Principle Investigator under a series of Small Business Innovative Research grants awarded by the US EPA between 2009 and 2012. McIntyre’s research focuses on the development of novel materials and processes that emulate nature using agricultural byproducts and fungal mycelium to provide low cost alternatives to synthetics such as plastics.

And for more information on how EPA supports research for innovative environmental solutions and “green” jobs, read: Investing in a Sustainable Future.

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.

A New Appreciation for the Fungus Among Us

By Elizabeth Myer

I’m a vegetarian, which means people are often shocked to learn that in addition to my choice to exclude meat from my diet, I also hate mushrooms. I really don’t consider myself a picky person when it comes to food, but man, something about the texture of mushrooms grosses me out! However, I recently came across a story about a small upstate company called Ecovative Design that has already received heaps of attention from EPA – and get this: their business is powered by mushrooms!

Ecovative co-founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre created a completely compostable Styrofoam substitute using a technology that they developed during their senior year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Just last June, the pair launched a packaging product called EcoCradle, which is made from the mushrooms “roots”, called mycélium. To make the biodegradable (and edible!) 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. With significant investments federal government agencies including the EPA, Ecovative Design has seen tremendous expansion since its inception. Bayer and McIntyre are successfully challenging the paradigm on how materials are manufactured and used; and what an example they have set! These guys have convinced me that for the first time in 24 years, I can get on board with the mushroom craze. And really, wouldn’t it be great if we could help them to create a world without waste?