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Ecovative Design, Troy, N.Y.

Named one of “America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs” of 2011 by Businessweek, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre are the founders of Ecovative Design, a biomaterials company that makes sustainable alternatives to foams and plastics. Based in Green Island, New York, Ecovative utilizes mushroom technology to create 100 percent biodegradable and renewable products such as packaging, building products, and structural composites. Unlike commonly used materials such as Styrofoam, which come from non-renewable fossil fuel resources and will take at least 500 years to break down, Ecovative’s materials are mostly made from agricultural byproducts and can be composted at home when they’re no longer needed. In other words, you can chuck an Ecovative product into your garden and it’ll decompose in weeks.

Ecovative operates out of a 10,000-square-foot office and warehouse where the company grows their materials. Plant parts that cannot be used for food or feed are inoculated with mycelium, threadlike cells that are like the “roots” of mushrooms. The mycelium digests the agricultural byproducts (corn stalks and vegetable husks) without any water, light, or petrochemical inputs. After five to seven days, the mash turns into a fibrous foam that can be formed into almost any shape. Ecovative then treats it with heat and dehydration to stop the growth and ensure that there are no spores and allergens in the final product.

Ecovative’s Mushroom Packaging is already being used by a growing number of Fortune 500 companies. Last year, they landed a licensing deal with Sealed Air, the packaging company behind Bubble Wrap and Cryovac. Recently, Ecovative has been working with automakers in Detroit as well. According to Bayer, “We’re doing tear-downs on their cars to see where they use foam and where our material might work instead.”

Several organizations in different industries have shown interest in Ecovative’s revolutionary eco-friendly materials, and the 35-person company is “racing to increase production.”