Nature has already invented technologies for making the products we need and love in harmony with the planet. The key is knowing where to find them: in the form of abundant mushrooms in old-growth forests, and the mycelial webs that produce them. We call this The Forager’s Secret, because for centuries, those who wander the woods for mushrooms have known nature’s resilient abundance, moving in a collaborative relationship with the living world that directly inspires Ecovative’s research into mycelial materials, engineering, and biofabrication.
The way most of us know fungi best is by their mushrooms. For millennia, humans have cultivated a productive relationship with mushrooms: we’ve eaten them for food, benefitted from their medicinal properties, and enjoyed their enchanting forms. In turn, generations of foragers have learned their favorite varieties, where they live and when they appear, casting their spores as they wander the forests. More recently, people have learned to cultivate them at scale under controlled conditions. At Ecovative, we’re expanding the possibilities of working with mushrooms, with a focus on the networks of mycelia to create durable, sustainable biomaterials.
Mycelium is often described as the ‘root structure’ or ‘vegetative state’ of mushrooms. The terms come from plants, but fungi are a wholly separate kingdom of life, distinct from animals, plants, or bacteria. Mycelium does sort of look like roots, with its webbed networks of branching, thread-like cells called hyphae. But mycelial networks are unique, extremely fine, and strong, with high tensile strength and the ability to resist water, decay, and immense internal or external pressures. They come from nature, and under the right conditions, return to the soil as nutrients. In other words, they’re one of nature’s most amazing supermaterials.
Fungi have evolved over millions of years to build intricate structures that are elegant, resilient, and adaptable. Through a process called cytokinesis, they endlessly divide into complex webs that fill out all available space with tightly woven fibers.Mycelial cell walls are reinforced by chitin, the same tough stuff that insect shells are made from, conferring high durability and tensile strength. Combine this with their tightly interwoven structure and their self-assembling intelligence, and you can see why we believe mycelium represents the supermaterial of the future.
Branching Hyphal Network
Fungi don’t need to be told what to do. They naturally and intelligently extend and weave into forms that maximize surface area and carrying capacity, with minimum wasted energy. For materials scientists, working with mycelium is largely about guiding this process to replicate organic structures like meat or leather, and even inorganic ones like high performance foams. We carefully choose the right strain and control growing conditions for the material want to create, and then let the fungi do their thing.
Of course, mycelium won’t just make a shoe or an insulation panel on its own. Human intervention is important, and through our research, Ecovative has learned how to coax fungi into producing premium quality structures and materials. My™Forest Food’s mycelium bacon, for example, uses our AirMycelium™ technology, producing parallel fibers that mimic muscle tissues, with many of the same qualities such as texture, density, and delicious flavor, no animals involved. This technology allows us to grow these materials around the world at scales that can transform whole industries.
Growing at Scale
Our AirMycelium™ growth chambers guide pure mycelial fibers into large format sheets, four meters wide and 60 meters long. These sheets are grown in vertical farms, layered in tall, long racks to produce vast quantities within a small footprint. After a few days in the chamber, the mycelium is separated from its feedstock, ready to be transformed into bacon, leather-like hides, elastomeric foams, and other products. No toxic chemicals, plastic or other waste are involved, and all that’s left are fully biodegradable compost that feeds nature, building soils and fostering true circularity.
There are millions of different species of fungi, which means millions of possible materials with countless useful qualities. We select strains based on their specific properties, and in the process have generated a world class biological library that is constantly growing. This library isn’t just a resource for biomaterials science - it’s a record of precious fungal biodiversity. Since most fungi are still unknown, we don’t even know what we’re losing to climate change, overdevelopment and other ecological threats, which we are working to minimize by advancing sustainable mycomaterials.
After millions of years of evolution, the innate intelligence of fungi means we don’t need to micromanage their growth. By selecting the right strain and creating the right conditions, we can encourage mycelium to weave themselves into the exact forms we need. It’s a partnership forged in nature, and refined in our labs, to the benefit of the Earth.
One company can’t save the planet, which is why we’re teaming up with anyone who sees the value in what we’re growing. Ideas come from everywhere, so we developed a partner program that allows anyone with an idea for how to use our myco materials to realize their ideas, and put them to use in their own homes, businesses, and communities. It is our goal to form a global mycelial web of partner producers, to steadily replace numerous unsustainable materials with those that come from nature, and return to nature when their use is through.
Learn about our technology
AirMycelium is 100% pure mycelium, produced at commercial scale in environmentally controlled, vertically stacked Growth Chambers.
The Mycelium Foundry
Our Foundry services use high throughput screening to quickly develop new mycelium materials at small, pilot, and commercial scales.