Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mushroom as a brave innovation for new plastic?

While I was trying to find Do-It-Yourself Youtube's video on how to cook a simple mushroom dishes, a 'suggested video' entitled Eben Bayer: Are Mushrooms the new plastic? appeared at the side of my tiny, unassuming internet browser. I was taken aback not by the fascination of this newly-heard concept, but by how long I have been on internet that I started to watch the possibility of re-engineering conventional plastic manufacturing from the initial intention of learning how to cook dorm-style simple mushroom dishes. Jokes aside, I was inspired by the speaker who is also the founder of "Ecovative" and a co-inventor of "Mycobond". According to Eben, Mycobond is a technology that utilizes mycelium (root network of fungi that have polymer-like structures found in synthetic plastic) that can have the potential to replace synthetic plastic in terms of tensile strength and durability. The development of mycelium is not demanding, and instead helps to remove agricultural wastes as it obtains nutrition from rice husks or woody biomass. Since the building block is chitinous polymer, mycelium can be molded to form free-shaping materials that have insulating and resisting properties including heat, acoustic sound, and atmospheric moisture.

The growing processes are described in four steps:

1. Selection of agricultural waste materials. This can be anything that is abundant and easily available in the nearby proximity. 

2. Tools to place the waste and grow the fungi. The container can be anything, in any shape that will eventually act as a physical enclosure

3. Storage. We place the filled up container in the cool dark place to allow the mycelium and the fungi associated to proliferate the entire container

4. Harvest. The remains of the waste materials will be mostly used up after 5 days (depending on the size of the initial container) to form white and moldy mycelium. The millions polymer chains can then be processed further to be used for packaging, protective buffer or for decoration purposes. 

Nature has always provided us with ways to live our life in harmony with the Earth's ecological system. Synthetic polymers that give rise to Styrofoam are difficult to be naturally-degraded over a short period of time. Mechanical breakdowns of such materials will only cause further damages as pollution of micro-plastic has now sparked interests among many wild-life conservationists and the environmentalists because negative impacts found in living organisms or habitats are becoming widespread and common.  Although the public's perception of natural plastic made out of mushroom can not be accepted as fast, but the hope and willingness to change are there. I'm hopeful and optimistic that synthetic plastic derived from finite crude oil can one day be replaced with mushroom's mycelium. 

Video taken from:

1 comment:

  1. It is such an innovative and interesting method to replace synthetic plastic! It seems like a feasible method for the future but other than considering the societies' willingness to accept this idea, I would be concern of the demand for mushrooms in the future as well. Would it lead to a shortage of mushrooms in the long run causing another problem of overharvesting if it is ever to be mass produced? I believe it is something for us to consider and for us to take note if we are seriously considering mushrooms as a replacement for synthetic plastic.