Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Potential Styrofoam Substitute on the Horizon

So a few bright young folks over at the start-up Ecovative Design have come up with their own entry into the Styrofoam alternatives market, and it's derived from a novel source: mushrooms. Turns out the natural microfibers found in your average fungi can be turned into some highly efficient packing material. This is potentially great news for scenic designers and carpenters who are guilty about the use of Styrofoam on stage (myself included). Styrofoam is amazingly useful in the theatre! It's a material that's lightweight, incredibly easy to shape, takes a variety of surface coatings, and it's cheap. It just happens to also be toxic and non-biodegradable. Some experiments I've been a part of years ago looked into the use of cornstarch substitutes, without much success. This was mostly due to the water solubility of cornstarch making it very difficult to paint or otherwise treat, and also it's difficulty to shape due to its fiber structure. But this new material may be able to solve some or all of these issues. After having some back-and-forth with the developers, I've learned that the material has a very low solubility and is easy to shape. I'm eager to actually experiment with some test samples! The bad news is that it may be a while before Ecovative is manufacturing the shroom foam in sizes and shapes that are ideal for set construction. They're still working towards mass production, and they understand the truth that most of their initial profits will come from producing custom packaging. Still, it's a promising bright spot on the horizon.

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