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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Treehugger Tuesday

Can Mushrooms Replace Styrofoam?

The New Yorker recently published a piece about the discovery of a Styrofoam alternative made from fungi.

Form and Fungus
Can mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?
by Ian Frazier May 20, 2013

May 20, 2013 Issue

Gavin McIntyre, the co-inventor of a process that grows all-natural substitutes for plastic from the tissue of mushrooms, holds a pen or pencil in an unusual way. Gripping it between two fingers of his right hand, he moves his arm across the paper so that his wrist grazes the inscribed line; because of this, he uses pens with ink that doesn’t smear. When he draws an explanatory diagram of the chitin molecule—chitin is the principal component of mycelium, the white, rootlike vegetative structure of fungi—he bends over his work, then looks up earnestly to see if his hearer has understood. The gesture makes him appear younger than his age, which is twenty-eight. He wears glasses and has straight black hair, dark eyes, and several piercings, with studs in his lip and ears.

The other co-inventor, Eben Bayer, won’t be twenty-eight until June. Bayer is almost six-five, and often assumes the benign expression of a large and friendly older brother. His hair is brown, short, and spiky, his face is long, and his self-effacing manner hides the grand ambitions that people who come from small towns (Bayer grew up in South Royalton, in central Vermont) sometimes have. When he says, of the company that he and McIntyre founded, “We want to be the Dow or DuPont of this century,” he is serious. He is their company’s C.E.O., McIntyre its Chief Scientist. People with money and influence have bet that they will succeed.

Not long ago, McIntyre and Bayer and I sat and talked in the conference room of their thirty-two-thousand-square-foot factory, in Green Island, New York. They have been friends ever since they met in a design class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in nearby Troy, during the fall semester of their sophomore year, almost nine years ago. During our conversation, they leaned back and forth and sideways in the room’s flexible ergonomic chairs, meanwhile tapping their iPhones to send and receive texts and e-mails to and from many people, perhaps including each other. McIntyre was wearing running shoes, jeans, a plaid shirt, and a forest-green pullover, and Bayer approximately the same. As they talked about their invention, they mentioned Burt Swersey, the teacher at R.P.I. who became their mentor and adviser. . . .

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