Organic insulation

Eben Bayer, a graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed an environmentally friendly organic insulation – with the help of some mushrooms!

His patented combination of water, flour, minerals, and mushroom spores could replace conventional foam insulations, which are expensive to produce and harmful to the environment.

Households use nearly one-fifth the total energy consumed in the US every year – and of that energy, 50 to 70 percent is spent on heating and cooling, according to the US Department of Energy.

To reduce this massive energy expenditure, new and existing homes must be fitted with more insulation. Conventional polystyrene and polyurethane foam blends are typically used because of their excellent capacity to insulate, but they require petroleum for production and are not biodegradable.

The son of a successful farmer in South Royalton, Vermont, Bayer’s 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 mould,’ Bayer said.

‘Mushroom cells are then injected into the mould, 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.’

The organic idea was born during a class Bayer took called Inventor’s Studio, where students were challenged to create sustainable housing. Bayer was tasked with improving the insulation of a conventional home.

This spring, Bayer began working with fellow classmate Gavin McIntyre to produce larger samples using different substrates, insulating particles, and growth conditions.

Together Bayer and McIntyre will be forming a company called Greensulate to commercialise the technology.