Capital Region Company Gets EPA Grant To Develop New "Biopolymer" Technology

Nov 12, 2014

A Capital Region company has been awarded $300,000 as part of an EPA grant to support environmentally-focused small businesses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced nine small business across the country would receive part of a $3 million grant designed to encourage growth and job creation through innovation research.

Gina McCarthy is EPA administrator.

“Countless success stories can be traced back to research and develop that is supported by government investment, including EPA investment. And these businesses are really innovating affordable, energy-efficient technology that are helping us more toward a low-carbon future,” said McCarthy.

One of the businesses included in the award is Ecovative Design, a company based in Green Island, New York that uses mushroom technology to develop materials for packaging and other uses.

Gavin McIntyre, a co-founder of Ecovative, says the award will help the company develop new technology to replace plastics with a material made from mycelium, the branching, vegetative part of fungus.

While the company has previously focused on a material that is composed of agricultural waste and mycelium for use in replacing plastic and foam packaging, this funding will help it develop a product that is made entirely from mycelium. Its first application, says McIntyre, is to replace your everyday, plastic shoe-soles.

“These products, they do have vinyl in them, so there’s a lot of human health risks associated with their production. So of course, at end of life, since it is a composite of a number of different kind of plastics, it’s really hard to disassociate the materials and recycle them. So what we’re offering and what we’re already completed the first phase of development on is a hundred-precent mycelium-only product that can really compete favorably with plastics and rubber today.”

Ecovative is calling the new product bio-polymer technology.

The company, begun in 2007 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Business Incubator, now employs 65 people.

McIntyre said the EPA was one of the first federal agencies to “take a leap” on Ecovative when the company was in its early stages.

“And it really laid the foundation for the development and then later the scale-up and commercialization of our most mature product lines, which are protective packaging products. And we look to do that again with this new material and this new grant from the EPA.”

Other businesses supported by the awards include a Tennessee company that uses x-rays to develop electronic waste recycling technology, and an Ohio company that has invented a lightweight drinking water purification system using ultraviolet light.

David Levine, CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, said the U.S. shouldn’t have to choose between investing in business or investing in the environment, as the number of sustainable companies is growing. In five years, Levine said his organization now represents 200,000 environmentally focused businesses across the U.S.

“We applaud the EPA for investing in businesses which are bringing solutions to market, that will benefit our economy, as well as our health and the environment,” said Levine.