Published May-26-10

A biodegradable insulation material made of mushrooms that could revolutionize the building industry. It aims to replace expanded polystyrene products.

Ecovative Design, United States

The Story:

Greensulate Open innovation contests have long been used by governments and organizations to accelerate the speed with which ideas are generated. They are powerful instruments that can be used by any company or public body for commercial and societal benefits.

Dutch Open Innovation Competition

One of today’s overarching concerns is how we can develop new technologies that are kinder to the environment and do not drain our planet’s precious resources. The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is an annual Dutch open innovation competition to promote and facilitate the invention of innovative green products and services.

The 2008 competition attracted 235 submissions covering a range of products and services which were whittled down to four finalists. The overall winner was Greensulate, which according to its creators is the world’s first sustainable rigid board insulation - and it is 100% biodegradable.

Organic Alternative

Almost all current rigid board insulation material is made from petrochemicals which involves considerable CO2 emissions during production. Greensulate is not manufactured, it is grown. Mycelia, the vegetative roots of mushrooms are grown in a bed of agricultural by-products such as buckwheat husks.

“The insulation is created by pouring a mixture of insulating particles, hydrogen peroxide, starch, and water into a panel mold”, said co-inventor Eben Bayer. “Mushroom cells are then injected into the mold, where they digest the starch producing a tightly meshed network of insulating particles and mycelium.”

Just one cubic inch of Greensulate contains eight miles of interconnected mycelia. The panels are dried in an oven to prevent mycelial growth, treated, and after two weeks are ready to be placed between your walls. They are strong, fireproof and long-lasting.

Dramatic Cuts to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The PICNIC Green Challenge jury said that Greensulate had the potential to decrease CO2 emissions on a world scale and awarded its inventors - Bayer and his colleague Gavin McIntyre - the first prize of 500,000 Euros (approximately USD $630,00).

The sizeable cash injection was ploughed into further development so that Bayer can bring his innovation to market in 2010. The first trial was conducted at a Vermont school gym in 2009, and currently at time of writing, the novel insulation material is on track to be released toward the end of 2010.

Open Innovation Best Practices

The PICNIC Green Challenge provided participants with a clearly defined aspiration and benefit. Open innovation works best when these objectives are adhered to. If they are too narrow creativity is strangled, too broad and a rag tag collection of ideas that don’t address the problem are presented.

Although prizes are an old idea they are still a highly effective means to foster creativity and innovation that deliver swift and brilliant solutions.

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