National Science Foundation: Bucinell 2012

Award Date: May 2012

Summary

Union College Professor Ronald Bucinell (Mechanical Engineering) continues his research collaboration with Ecovative Designs LLC and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute through a $38,000 subaward under Ecovative Designs prime grant award.  This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project titled "Using Mycelium as a Matrix for Binding Natural Fibers and Core Filler Materials in Sustainable Composites," seeks to further quantify the mechanical performance of mycological bio-composites that address the automotive and structural core industries, while concurrently scaling and demonstrating material production.

Abstract

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project seeks to further quantify the mechanical performance of mycological bio-composites that address the automotive and structural core industries, while concurrently scaling and demonstrating material production. The engineered composites market continues to grow steadily because of the high strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios of these systems, as compared to conventional engineering materials. Engineered woods are ubiquitous in the construction and furniture industries, but due to domestic indoor air quality regulations (Toxic Substances Control Act), these materials are being phased out or are forced to use expensive formaldehyde-free adhesives. Similarly, the automotive industry is under regulatory pressure in Europe to find alternatives to fire-retardant foams that cannot be recycled due to inorganic filling agents. The technical results from the Phase I effort have demonstrated bio-composite materials which can compete both economically, and on mechanical performance, with the aforementioned competitors, while meeting these legislative demands. A preliminary cost analysis based on the process economics of our existing production facilities projects retail costs 45% and 35% below the current state-of-the-art in the automotive and furniture industries, respectively. We will work with key industry partners to meet performance metrics and demonstrate quality pilot production.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project would be a customizable bio-composite for a broad range of markets, including automotive, transportation, architectural, furniture, sports, and recreation. These materials are truly sustainable, since both the laminates and cores used in the sandwich structure consist of renewable materials. They also require significantly less energy to make than other biocompatible composites, because the material is grown instead of synthesized, and the material is completely compostable at the end of life. The outcome of the proposed development and demonstration will ensure that the bio-composite properties meet the requirements for the target markets. Furthermore, over the course of this grant, and in cooperation with Rensselaer and Union College, we will demonstrate and scale the best manufacturing processes to a pilot stage capable of manufacturing high volumes of quality product. Since these materials leverage regional lignocellulosic byproducts from domestic agriculture and industry, a regional manufacturing model is presently being pursued to reduce transportation and feedstock costs. This will not only bring additional value to U.S. agricultural markets, but will spur rural economic development through domestic manufacturing. Finally, these advanced biological materials represent a new paradigm in manufacturing, offering safe, biodegradable alternatives to traditional petroleum-based alternatives.