Mushrooms the Secret Ingredient in Organic Insulation
A recent graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. has developed an environmentally friendly organic insulation that he hopes will provide an alternative to conventional foam insulation in developing nations where usable housing is scarce and generally hard to obtain, or in disaster areas where temporary housing is essential.
Eben Bayer’s combination of water, flour, minerals and mushroom spores offers a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional polystyrene and polyurethane foam blends that require petroleum for production and are not biodegradable.
Bayer completed double majors in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation, and he is the son of a successful farmer in South Royalton, Vt. His knowledge of the Earth and fungal growth led him to develop a novel method of bonding insulating minerals using the mycelium growth stage of pleurotus ostreatus mushroom cells.
“The insulation is created by pouring a mixture of insulating particles, hydrogen peroxide, starch and water into a panel mold,” Bayer says. “Mushroom cells are then injected into the mold, where they digest the starch, producing a tightly meshed network of insulating particles and mycelium. The end result is an organic composite board that has a competitive R-Value — a measurement of resistance to heat flow — and can serve as a firewall.”
Bayer hatched his organic idea in an “Inventor’s Studio” class challenging students to create sustainable housing. His assignment was to improve the insulation of a conventional home.
Bayer’s process resulted in a new energy-saving, cost-effective, environmentally friendly class of insulation that could replace traditional synthetic insulators such as foam and fiberglass.
He is currently at work with fellow grad Gavin McIntyre to produce larger samples using different substrates, insulating particles and growth conditions.
In November, Bayer and McIntyre will travel to Seattle to compete as semifinalists in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Innovation Showcase competition. Participants will display their product’s key features and commercialization components and compete for a cash prize.
Beyond insulation applications, the two envision modifying the growing mixture slightly to include reinforcing materials that could be used to create strong and sustainable “growable” homes.
Examples of this application include inexpensive structural panels that could be grown and assembled on-site in developing nations and where temporary housing is essential.
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