The Adaptability of Ecovators

When I started at Ecovative back in 2011, we occupied a small warehouse space and were still in the early “start-up” phase of production. Over time, we moved from our tiny place to a factory twice the size across the street. Even that proved unable to hold us back in our growth and we took over another section of the warehouse strip. It was easy enough, just smash a hole in the wall and annex the space beyond. Like the mycelium that makes our product, we too grow out into our environment, soon reaching across the river to our newest space in Troy, NY (incidentally that is where my parents were born and raised, so my excitement is twofold). With all this growth of course comes change, resolution to old problems, and of course the creation of new ones. Through all this, though, one thing is clear: Ecovators can adapt.

Two weeks ago, while enjoying lunchtime with about a dozen co-workers I heard Max exclaim, “I’m done with the fork. Who needs it?” I looked around and saw that aside from Max with his spaghetti, the only lunch with need for a fork was Melissa’s salad, and she promptly snatched it up. Everyone else in the room was either eating bowls of soup with tablespoons, or mac n cheese with iced tea spoons, while many others went the simpler route and had brought hand held sandwiches or G0-Gurts for their mid-day meal.

You see, like evolution, the loss of forks in the lunchroom was slow and seemingly inexorable. It wasn’t until there was just one left that we really noticed that they had been disappearing. Since the flow of time through Ecovative’s history followed a similar trend, we were conditioned to the change. We adapted to what had been thrown our way, planning ahead and sharing, communicating needs and working as a team, even in lunchtime. We had switched to a spoon-friendly society without detriment to ourselves. In fact, it was a little bit fun.

Fortunately, forks in general have not gone the way of the Dodo, and in noticing that one of the species was left, we did not panic. We simply placed an Amazon order and had several more dozen delivered. Slowly now, perhaps a little sheepishly, we bring our noodles, our spinach, and our coleslaw out of the Featured imagerefrigerator, melding once more into a peaceful society of multitudinous flatware. And, like our kitchen adventures, Ecovative itself moves through time, adapting, reconfiguring, and in some ways, going back to the way it was.

May the forks be with you.

– Meghan Dolan

How Can We Prevent Ocean Plastic Pollution?

Plastic pollution in our waterways is a serious problem. The evidence published last week in the Feb 13th issue of Science, exposed the 4.8-12 million metric tons per year (!!) of plastic reaching our oceans in a report called “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Time is short to rescue ocean life. Ecovative’s Mushroom Materials can help eliminate the styrene particle problem when adopted as packaging material and marine flotation devices to replace Styrofoam.

If you have 15 minutes, I would highly recommend watching this summary of White Devil, a documentary that explains the ocean pollution problem in depth, and highlights Ecovative as a solution (at around 11:30):

will be displaying Ecovative’s many solutions to ocean plastic pollution at an Innovation Showcase, sponsored by Think Beyond Plastic and the Ocean Caucuses of the Senate and House. This public showcase will be held at Capitol Hill on March 16th, and we encourage everyone to attend this very important event (more information can be found below)!

– Sue Van Hook

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The Latest on Mushroom® Surfboards

At Ecovative, we’ve always wanted to grow sustainable surfboard cores from our foam replacement. This application started as a personal project for Gavin, one of Ecovative’s co-founders; growing up surfing on Long Island, he’s had, since some of the earliest days of the company, a desire to create a Mushroom® Surfboard. We tried (and, despite what Gavin may sentimentally recall, failed miserably) a few times throughout the years; but in late 2013, we had learned a lot about growing biocomposites and we felt confident we could give it another shot. Having really never successfully grown something this large, it was a formidable task, but Gavin and I slowly began determining a way to adapt our expertise in packaging to water sports.

Surfboard cores are typically shaped or molded from expanded polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane (PU) foam. These materials, derived from petrochemicals, are not only unnatural, but blatantly harmful to the environment–ultimately persisting in a landfill for hundreds of thousands of generations to come. Rather than contributing to the already widespread pollution of our beaches and water by using traditional blank materials, Ecovative’s goal was to enable people to make blanks from renewable materials that would degrade when the unfortunate snapped leash, or worse, a broken board occurred.

Our first challenge was simply how to grow a blank. From our experience in packaging and our initial inquiries into engineered wood replacements, we knew our material either shaped well and was dense, or grew to a lightweight material, but had to be grown to shape. Incredibly dense boards were quickly ruled out as an optioFeatured imagen, so we had to figure out a way to make a 6 foot blank on our 3 foot thermoformer, when we had never grown anything larger than 18 square inches. The solution was to take one of Gavin’s old boards, cut it into manageable quadrants (that had but centimeters of space to spare on the thermoformer), and create the tools from each section that would be filled with our material.

After a few days of growth, we placed the four sections snugly against each other and let them grow together into a solid board (mushroom mycelium has the amazing ability to graft itself flawlessly with other specimens of the same strain; allowing us to “glue” living pieces together). This blank was then coated with Entropy Resin to render it seaworthy. While admittedly rough, the first few prototypes we grew were a fulfilling proof of concept. In September that year, we took them to The Boardroom Show and received some fantastic feedback while creating a ton of interest and fostering some great partnerships with early adopters.

Coming back from this show, we were extremely motivated and began exploring different ways to grow boards that would lower densities, while also smoothly incorporating the product into our manufacturing line. Over the course of about a year, we were finally able to, with some trial and error, reproducibly grow a medium-density surfboard blank.

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One drawback to the blend we developed is that this material could not be traditionally shaped, something important for the creation of boards. This meant, if we ever were to scale in-house, that we had to devote massive amounts of our limited warehouse space to grow many different shapes, in many different sizes, then ship them all over the world to be processed and then shipped to a store or the end-user.

Our goal at Ecovative has always been not only to displace as many plastic foam and other synthetic materials as possible, but to show truly sustainable products can also be economical. Given this, and the fact that we are a small company focused on a number of other major projects (displacing plastic packaging and eliminating the Urea-Formaldehyde glues used in the wood industry) we shifted away from dedicating additional resources to growing individual blanks in-house, and instead decided to focus our research on our strength: growing a robust raw material with innumerable possibilities.

This led to the launch of a Grow It Yourself platform where we enable the people who know how to make their products best, in this case shapers, to grow their own items by providing the raw material and technical knowledge. We’re calling this GIY and it allows anyone to grow anything from a surfboard to a lamp.

A surf company in California called Surf Organics has been the pilot for this platform. They started growing Mushroom Surfboards and, after some rocky initial development, have recently had awesome success. Check out their boards:

We hope to see even more companies starting to explore our patented mushroom technology for sustainable boards. In the future we will explore this market further with our developing grant-funded biopolymer, a 100% mycelium material that is stronger, lighter, and more shapeable (but only available in 12” tiles today!)

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In the meantime, we’re excited to share our material with those trying to make the world a more environmentally friendly place. We have been thrilled with the interest and enthusiasm and hope this translates into some awesome products for the industry!

– Alex Carlton

We’ve got spirit, yes we do!

At Ecovative, excitement is always in the air. We’re excited about replacing toxic products, promoting sustainability, and changing the world. How can a team of young scientists and engineers NOT be enthusiastic about that prospect? While Ecovative’s team is filled with diverse people who have varying experience and expertise, it is no surprise that the entire company shares a mentality with the Co-founders’ Alma Mater.

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s mantra of “Why not change the world?” resonates heavily within the walls of our office and warehouse. With about 25% of Ecovative employees having studied at RPI, we certainly feel a connection to the institute. Additionally, RPI’s Incubator Program is to thank for Ecovative’s first operating space, and through the current Emerging Ventures Ecosystem program, Ecovative is able to use RPI facilities to broaden the scope of our research projects.

For these reasons and more, we were ecstatic to take part in RPI’s 4th Annual Spirit Day.

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This event gave us the perfect excuse to show off our constant enthusiasm for changing the world in a different light – and with pompoms! Here at Ecovative, we are proud of our origins and thrilled with the success that has allowed our company to grow into what it is today. GO RED!!

– Deb Kraft, ’13

Ecovative’s Chief Mycologist visits Atlanta, GA

Thoughts of warmer temperatures, blue skies and pecan pie filled my head as I left last Tuesday afternoon bound for Atlanta, Georgia. I arose the next morning, put on my down coat, hat and mittens and thought, “It will warm up.” Well everything is relative. Compared to the subzero temperatures I left behind in upstate New York, the brisk 25oF felt pretty good.

Featured imageMy host and hostess from the Mushroom Club of Georgia, took me to a green belt along the Chattahoochee River. My mission was to find fungi growing on southern tree species. Within the first 30 minutes we had the two species I came for. I grew more delighted as the 3 of us spotted others, including two conks from the southeast this northerner did not know before. One, Phlebia incarnata, is a real gem. The rosy pink suede topside stood out like a beacon on the dark log. Flipped over, its spore-bearing surface was a creamy puckered crescent – quite unique to the genera Phlebia and Merulius. There are neither pores, nor gills, but wrinkles similar to the underside of a chanterelle.

Along the way we spotted a flock of Cedar waxwings, a Brown Thrasher, a Veery and were warned by the cry of a Cooper’s hawk perched overhead adjacent to the wetland. The mobbing caws of a half dozen crows led us to the hawk’s mate in a tree a few yards away. We watched as they flew off together, a sign that mating season is underway.

Content with our morning’s haul and the sunshine that had broken through morning clouds, we returned to the house for a quick lunch of delicious mushroom pate on toast.

The next two stops were in downtown Atlanta for Ecovative business visits. The coolest thing I learned about Georgia is that the state subsidizes,Featured image to the tune of 5 grand, the purchase of an electric Nissan Leaf, and there are free charging stations in most of the parking lots and garages. Guess what the most frequent car was on the congested highways of Atlanta? I saw more Leafs than anything else.

I ended the day just outside Atlanta with the Mushroom Club of Georgia at their first monthly meeting of 2015. The gathering of 80 folks from places as far as Athens, GA was very receptive to the creative use of mushrooms for Ecovative’s packaging and engineered wood product lines. I was able to make lots of connections with people working in the fields of product safety, extended product responsibility legislation, sustainable Georgia, indirect sales, and economic development for the state. I just love being among my peeps.

– Sue Van Hook

Biomimetica: a student project that came to life with Mushroom Materials

Back in September, I received an email from a graphic design student in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His name is Julio Glatt and he was interested in creating a book about biomimicry and life’s principles. Naturally, he envisioned creating the book out of sustainable materials, and he turned to Ecovative for help with this.

He was hoping to create the cover and back of the book using Mushroom® Materials. At the time, our Grow it Yourself (GIY) program was not an option yet, so I directed him to our webstore where he could purchase some of our sample materials. Julio ordered some Myco Foam tiles and when he found that they were thicker than he wanted for his project, he cut them to size, coated them with a transparent paper to give him the desired texture, and then sewed the whole book together. Look at how awesome it turned out!

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You can see more pictures of the book and details of the project at:

Ecovative receives at least a dozen emails each week from enthusiastic and motivated students that are interested in incorporating Mushroom® Materials into their projects. It’s inspiring for us to see how many students are motivated by sustainable design, and reminds us just how important our work of replacing toxic and unsustainable materials is. Stay tuned for more projects that we hope to share from the GIY program!

– Melissa Jacobsen

Ecovative Opens Second Manufacturing Plant in Troy, NY

New facility will advance Ecovative’s premium Mushroom® Packaging product and manufacturing innovation.

Green Island, NY– Ecovative is expanding its manufacturing with the opening of a plant in Troy, NY to produce its premium Mushroom® Packaging solution. From its new facility, the company will continue to supply customers with its high performing products while also continuing to innovate the specialized technologies designed to create Mushroom Packaging.

Ecovative will produce its blocking, bracing, and cushioning products, licensed to Sealed Air Corporation in North America as Restore® Mushroom Packaging, at the Troy facility. Ecovative employees will be producing this product on equipment custom-designed by Ecovative engineers.

“Our new Troy manufacturing plant will house the evolving technologies required to produce Ecovative’s innovative products at a scale necessary to meet our growing customer base. We are excited to bring more manufacturing to Troy and the region we call home,” Eben Bayer, CEO of Ecovative, said in announcing the company’s expansion.

Ecovative is maintaining its partnership with Sealed Air Corporation (NYSE: SEE), the leading packaging company in North America, which has partnered in the production of some Ecovative products for the past 3 years. Restore® Mushroom® Packaging will continue to be designed and sold through Sealed Air’s North American and global distribution networks.

At the 20,000 square foot facility, located at the Ross Valve Tech Park in the Troy neighborhood of Lansingburgh, Ecovative will convert its biological material grown at their nearby Green Island, NY facility into the final packaging product. The close proximity of the company’s two facilities, along with access to local agriculture suppliers, will allow Ecovative to meet its efficient supply chain goals.  Ecovative’s Troy plant, expected to be operational by mid-2015, will be the site for continuous improvement of manufacturing design, with a particular focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

“As a sixth generation manufacturing company, founded in 1879, we share Ecovative’s commitment to Troy and the Capital Region.” said Andy Ross, CEO of Ross Valve. “Ecovative’s decision to move its sustainable manufacturing into the Ross Valve Tech Park in Troy will be an excellent addition to the community.”

Media Contact:

Melissa Jacobsen