Production designers can create new worlds that look amazing on screen. But the film crew sometimes leave behind a big mess. When production wraps and films set are destroyed, tons of garbage is produced. Instead of using stacks of Styrofoam or toxic plastic, there are eco-friendly materials that are already being used by other industries. Ecovative is an innovative U.S. company that has specialized in adapting natural processes for the creation of sustainable materials. With Myco Foam and Myco Board, this East-Coast production outfit has developed a cost-effective, eco-friendly mushroom material that can be used for packaging, furniture design, and even building construction. Ecovative’s technology, which it has patented in the U.S. as well as internationally, uses fungal mycelium to transform agricultural waste products into durable biologically-composite materials.
“Mycelium is an amazing material, because it’s a self-assembling material”, emphasizes Eben Bayer, CEO and Co-Founder of Ecovative. “It actually takes things we would consider waste — things like seed husks or woody biomass — and can transform them into a chitinous polymer, which you can form into almost any shape.” By using mycelium as glue, objects can be molded as in the plastics industry. “You can create materials with many different properties”, the Tech Pioneer points out.
“Materials that are insulating, fire-resistant, moisture-resistant, vapor-resistant — materials that can absorb impacts, that can absorb acoustical impacts.” Since mycelium is naturally fire resistant, it has earned a Class-A fire rating by ASTM E84, the standard test method for the surface burning characteristics of building materials. “This a huge benefit to set designers”, says Melissa Jacobsen, Ecovative’s Director of Strategic Communications, “because there is no need to add any toxic chemicals or source materials that have these additives.”
The recipe for growing Myco Foam may be compared to that of baking a cake with yeast. The ingredients, corn stover and mycelium, provided by Ecovative in a pre-mixed bag, can be brought to life with some water and flour and then be poured into any chosen mold. “You actually grow the mycelium through these particles, and that’s where the magic happens, because the organism is doing the work in this process, not the equipment”, explains Bayer. Once it’s done growing, the material will be baked to stop the growth process.
“Our vision is local manufacturing, like the local food movement, for production”, says Bayer who, together with Ecovative co-founder Gavin McIntyre, created formulations for use throughout the world by using indigenous regional agricultural byproducts. “If you’re in China, you might use a rice husk or a cottonseed hull. If you’re in Northern Europe or North America, you can use things like buckwheat husks or oat hulls.”
Because these materials are grown from agricultural byproducts instead of petroleum, they are 100% compostable. As a protective packaging product, Mushroom® Packaging is being used by companies like Dell. Furthermore, these Eco pioneers are manufacturing replacements for particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard. Ecovative binds particles together with natural resin so that the material is urea-formaldehyde free and environmentally safe. Current applications include furniture, work surfaces, molded furniture components, seatbacks, cabinetry and billboards. “Myco Board could make a great alternative for production sets”, concludes Jacobsen. “Today, we’re mainly making custom molded furniture components and other molded shapes, but we’re also adding larger panel production capabilities. Interested set designers should contact us to get the conversation started.”