May 29, 2013

Mushrooms as the Building Material of the Future. ~ Thomas Detras

You might remember that famous scene from The Graduate.

The one where Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) returns from college with his degree in hand and aimlessness on his mind and is approached at his homecoming party with this sage insider advice:

“One word, Benjamin. Plastics.”

Today that scene can be edited to read:

“One word, Benjamin. Mushrooms.”

While the audience may conjure up the humorous image of hallucinatory edibles or dining delights, that advice may be just as sound and sagacious as plastics was in 1967.

A startup company named Ecovative has a vision of making a vast variety of building materials from mushrooms, and the company CEO, Eben Bayer, is not hallucinating—at least some experts think he’s not.

The building materials are grown in dark places, where the mushrooms feast on agricultural trash. The result is bricks strong enough to destroy metal saw blades, insulation better than Styrofoam and beams as strong as wood.

All of which is biodegradable and could be used as garden mulch.

Because of their innovative work, and reuse of agricultural refuse, Ecovative has received grants from the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

To me, this is more exciting than the discovery of the Higgs Boson. First of all, I can see a brick. Secondly, this mushroom thing can have an impact now. Ecovative is planning to manufacture packing materials almost immediately.

Imagine, never again having to deal with those static-laden indestructible Styrofoam peanuts.

Aside from the enormous contribution to the earthly environment, this mushroom idea may be the presentation of an incredible new industry. Something for green investors to keep an eye on.

One last thought. There is research that shows the intelligence of mushrooms and how their mycelial mats communicate with each other via their own network, much like Twitter.

It might feel a little creepy to live in the home of the future made of mushroom products knowing that my house is talking to mushrooms in New Zealand. But, when I think about it, my computer is hooked to a network and my television is hooked to a network and my phone is hooked to a network—not to mention my home alarm system, my car and even my goofy weather monitor.

They are all linked by satellite to one another, ready to synchronize the electric and magnetic fields from my house wiring with the myriads of radio and microwaves traveling through my body to someday pulse our brains into submission.

I just hope the mushrooms are friendly.

So when your children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren return from college armed with a college degree, feel like a keen insider when you say to them:

 “One word. Mushrooms.”


Thomas Detras is a former corporate executive enjoying the slower pace of life that retirement has to offer with his bride of 46 years. He counts his good fortune to have his son and daughter live nearby where he can stir debate in current events and enjoy his two grandchildren. At the well-intentioned, albeit possibly misguided, bidding of his daughter, he has redirected his technical and business writing skills into storytelling to fend off the temptation to listen to his bones rust while watching ballgames and reruns of Matlock.



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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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