A company based in the Capital Region has been awarded a $9.1 million federal contract to develop a new generation of living building materials.
Ecovative Design in Green Island, just north of Albany, has a unique approach: instead of manufacturing products, from lamp shades to packing materials, they grow them.
Using agricultural waste and a special kind of fungus, Ecovative has been able to develop a variety of products since it was founded a decade ago. What started as a partnership between two RPI grads has grown into a business that employs more than 60 people.
Ecovative Product Development Specialist Kyle Bucklin shows off a bag of what will become the company’s signature material.
“This is what the raw material looks like, it looks like mulch. But it’s actually corn and hemp mixed together and inside of here…you can’t really see it, but that’s the mycelium actually in there, in a dormant state,” said Bucklin.
Think of mycelium as the roots of a mushroom. With some water and a little flour the fungus can be activated and grown to hold the material together in any shape.
Bucklin also shows off a new packaging product being developed.
“This is a new prototype packaging part. We designed it to be a breakaway part so everything is grown in one piece, and then once it comes to the customer they can break it off,” says Bucklin.
To me, it looks like a big chocolate bar.
“I like it call it Kit-Kat packaging but no one else does,” laughs Bucklin.
Ecovative just received a $9.1 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to create new living building materials.
Ecovative Chief Scientist Gavin McIntyre says they’re aiming to scale up production on a mycelium-based building material that would have the ability to self-repair.
“For instance, if there were an issue, say, a leak in your roof. This material could react to that leak and self-repair as such that you no longer have to worry about that hole in your roof because the material has responded to that naturally,” says McIntyre.
This product would be different from the “Kit-Kat” packaging in that would it continue to grow once it is installed.
Ecovative imagines a future where U.S. forces might be able to arrive at a conflict zone or disaster site and be able to actually grow their own building materials.
They might even be able to grow the furniture within the building.
“Today we’re seeing a tredmenous amount of effort and embodied energy going into the construction of facilities on site. We’re hoping to be able to enable them to grow materials using local resources just like we do today, at Ecovative.”