Eben Bayer is the inventor of MycoBond, an organic mushroom-based composite material. His radically inventive process has turned a naturally occurring phenomenon into a viable business.
“It’s better than the plastic of tomorrow. It’s not a poison for the environment, and it’s actually a nutrient.”
A spectacular transformation occurs when a mushroom grows. The tiny mycelia thread through its host — be it wood chips or crop waste — and chemically bond the pieces together. While most have ignored this phenomenon, Eben Bayer took note. At Rensselaer Polytech, he partnered with fellow student Gavin MacIntyre to coax lab spores into an exceptionally durable material. After much trial and error, he developed MycoBond: an organic material that turns agricultural waste into a material that’s as strong as it is biodegradable — and naturally fire-retardant to boot.
The company under which they produce and distribute MycoBond, Ecovative Design, now employs a staff of 40, described by Eben as “mission-driven people who want to come to work every day doing something they believe in and love.” Using an economic approach that places equal value on people, planet and profit, his discovery is now being produced as an alternative material for packaging and insulation. Its potential seems boundless — Eben believes “it will do many of the same things as plastics do today: protect your packaging, make up the interior of your car, provide the structure for you computer case, or even the implant in your knee.”
The method to grow the composite materials is natural, resource-sparing, efficient, and nontoxic; unlike plastic or Styrofoam, MycoBond contains no petroleum-based ingredients and is completely biodegradable. Eben knows “people are generally a little skeptical at first, but the proof is in the execution.” The process is also easy to replicate, meaning it can be produced virtually anywhere. This makes it a potential candidate for local communities to create a commercial product from their own waste materials. Ecovative is currently beta-testing a Grow-It-Yourself Kit, toying with ways to get people involved in the process. He says, “I think people don’t like to buy products that destroy the environment and if given a cost-competitive option they would always choose a product that was good for them and the planet.”