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  • So, I'd like to spend a few minutes with you folks today

  • imagining what our planet might look like in a thousand years.

  • But before I do that,

  • I need to talk to you about synthetic materials like plastics,

  • which require huge amounts of energy to create

  • and, because of their disposal issues,

  • are slowly poisoning our planet.

  • I also want to tell you and share with you

  • how my team and I

  • have been using mushrooms over the last three years.

  • Not like that. (Laughter)

  • We're using mushrooms to create an entirely new class of materials,

  • which perform a lot like plastics during their use,

  • but are made from crop waste

  • and are totally compostable at the end of their lives.

  • (Cheering)

  • But first,

  • I need to talk to you about what I consider one of the most egregious offenders

  • in the disposable plastics category.

  • This is a material you all know is Styrofoam,

  • but I like to think of it as toxic white stuff.

  • In a single cubic foot of this material --

  • about what would come around your computer or large television --

  • you have the same energy content

  • of about a liter and a half of petrol.

  • Yet, after just a few weeks of use,

  • you'll throw this material in the trash.

  • And this isn't just found in packaging.

  • 20 billion dollars of this material is produced every year,

  • and everything from building materials to surfboards

  • to coffee cups to table tops.

  • And that's not the only place it's found.

  • The EPA estimates, in the United States,

  • by volume, this material occupies 25 percent of our landfills.

  • - Even worse is when it finds its way into our natural environment --

  • on the side of the road or next to a river.

  • If it's not picked up by a human, like me and you,

  • it'll stay there for thousands and thousands of years.

  • Perhaps even worse

  • is when it finds its way into our oceans, like in the great plastic gyre,

  • where these materials are being mechanically broken

  • into smaller and smaller bits,

  • but they're not really going away.

  • They're not biologically compatible.

  • They're basically following up

  • Earth's respiratory and circulatory systems.

  • And because these materials are so prolific,

  • because they're found in so many places,

  • there's one other place you'll find this material, styrene,

  • which is made from benzene, a known carcinogen.

  • You'll find it inside of you.

  • So, for all these reasons,

  • I think we need better materials,

  • and there are three key principles we can use to guide these materials.

  • The first is feedstocks.

  • Today, we use a single feedstock, petroleum,

  • to heat our homes, power our cars

  • and make most of the materials you see around you.

  • We recognize this is a finite resource,

  • and it's simply crazy to do this, to put a liter and a half of petrol in the trash

  • every time you get a package.

  • Second of all, we should really strive to use far less energy

  • in creating these materials.

  • I say far less, because 10 percent isn't going to cut it.

  • We should be talking about half, a quarter,

  • one-tenth the energy content.

  • And lastly, and I think perhaps most importantly,

  • we should be creating materials

  • that fit into what I call nature's recycling system.

  • This recycling system has been in place for the last billion years.

  • I fit into it, you fit into it,

  • and a hundred years tops, my body can return to the Earth with no preprocessing.

  • Yet that packaging I got in the mail yesterday

  • is going to last for thousands of years.

  • This is crazy.

  • But nature provides us with a really good model here.

  • When a tree's done using its leaves --

  • its solar collectors, these amazing molecular photon capturing devices --

  • at the end of a season,

  • it doesn't pack them up, take them to the leaf reprocessing center

  • and have them melted down to form new leaves.

  • It just drops them, the shortest distance possible,

  • to the forest floor,

  • where they're actually upcycled into next year's topsoil.

  • And this gets us back to the mushrooms.

  • Because in nature,

  • mushrooms are the recycling system.

  • And what we've discovered

  • is, by using a part of the mushroom you've probably never seen --

  • analogous to its root structure; it's called mycelium --

  • we can actually grow materials

  • with many of the same properties of conventional synthetics.

  • Now, mycelium is an amazing material,

  • because it's a self-assembling material.

  • It actually takes things we would consider waste --

  • things like seed husks or woody biomass --

  • and can transform them into a chitinous polymer,

  • which you can form into almost any shape.

  • In our process,

  • we basically use it as a glue.

  • And by using mycelium as a glue,

  • you can mold things just like you do in the plastic industry,

  • and you can create materials with many different properties,

  • materials that are insulating, fire-resistant,

  • moisture-resistant, vapor-resistant --

  • materials that can absorb impacts, that can absorb acoustical impacts.

  • But these materials are grown from agricultural byproducts,

  • not petroleum.

  • And because they're made of natural materials,

  • they are 100 percent compostable

  • in you own backyard.

  • So I'd like to share with you the four basic steps

  • required to make these materials.

  • The first is selecting a feedstock,

  • preferably something that's regional, that's in your area, right --

  • local manufacturing.

  • The next is actually taking this feedstock and putting in a tool,

  • physically filling an enclosure, a mold,

  • in whatever shape you want to get.

  • Then you actually grow the mycelium through these particles,

  • and that's where the magic happens,

  • because the organism is doing the work in this process,

  • not the equipment.

  • The final step is, of course, the product,

  • whether it's a packaging material, a table top, or building block.

  • Our vision is local manufacturing,

  • like the local food movement, for production.

  • So we've created formulations for all around the world

  • using regional byproducts.

  • If you're in China, you might use a rice husk

  • or a cottonseed hull.

  • If you're in Northern Europe or North America,

  • you can use things like buckwheat husks or oat hulls.

  • We then process these husks with some basic equipment.

  • And I want to share with you a quick video from our facility

  • that gives you a sense of how this looks at scale.

  • So what you're seeing here is actually cotton hulls from Texas, in this case.

  • It's a waste product.

  • And what they're doing in our equipment

  • is going through a continuous system,

  • which cleans, cooks, cools

  • and pasteurizes these materials,

  • while also continuously inoculating them with our mycelium.

  • This gives us a continuous stream of material

  • that we can put into almost any shape,

  • though today we're making corner blocks.

  • And it's when this lid goes on the part,

  • that the magic really starts.

  • Because the manufacturing process is our organism.

  • It'll actually begin to digest these wastes

  • and, over the next five days,

  • assemble them into biocomposites.

  • Our entire facility

  • is comprised of thousands and thousands and thousands of these tools

  • sitting indoors in the dark, quietly self-assembling materials --

  • and everything from building materials

  • to, in this case,

  • a packaging corner block.

  • So I've said a number of times that we grow materials.

  • And it's kind of hard to picture how that happens.

  • So my team has taken five days-worth of growth,

  • a typical growth cycle for us,

  • and condensed it into a 15-second time lapse.

  • And I want you to really watch closely

  • these little white dots on the screen,

  • because, over the five-day period,

  • what they do is extend out and through this material,

  • using the energy that's contained in these seed husks

  • to build this chitinous polymer matrix.

  • This matrix self-assembles,

  • growing through and around the particles,

  • making millions and millions of tiny fibers.

  • And what parts of the seed husk we don't digest,

  • actually become part of the final, physical composite.

  • So in front of your eyes, this part just self-assembled.

  • It actually takes a little longer. It takes five days.

  • But it's much faster than conventional farming.

  • The last step, of course, is application.

  • In this case, we've grown a corner block.

  • A major Fortune 500 furniture maker

  • uses these corner blocks to protect their tables in shipment.

  • They used to use a plastic packaging buffer,

  • but we were able to give them the exact same physical performance

  • with our grown material.

  • Best of all, when it gets to the customer,

  • it's not trash.

  • They can actually put this in their natural ecosystem without any processing,

  • and it's going to improve the local soil.

  • So, why mycelium?

  • The first reason is local open feedstocks.

  • You want to be able to do this anywhere in the world

  • and not worry about peak rice hull or peak cottonseed hulls,

  • because you have multiple choices.

  • The next is self-assembly,

  • because the organism is actually doing most of the work in this process.

  • You don't need a lot of equipment to set up a production facility.

  • So you can have lots of small facilities

  • spread all across the world.

  • Biological yield is really important.

  • And because 100 percent of what we put in the tool become the final product,

  • even the parts that aren't digested

  • become part of the structure,

  • we're getting incredible yield rates.

  • Natural polymers, well ... I think that's what's most important,

  • because these polymers have been tried and tested

  • in our ecosystem for the last billion years,

  • in everything from mushrooms to crustaceans.

  • They're not going to clog up Earth's ecosystems. They work great.

  • And while, today,

  • we can practically guarantee that yesterday's packaging

  • is going to be here in 10,000 years,

  • what I want to guarantee

  • is that in 10,000 years,

  • our descendants, our children's children,

  • will be living happily and in harmony

  • with a healthy Earth.

  • And I think that can be some really good news.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

So, I'd like to spend a few minutes with you folks today

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B1 US mycelium material packaging resistant local equipment

Eben Bayer:plastic and mushroom

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