Sustainable foam fabrication: developing methods for upscaling production of regional waste-based bio-composites as alternative to EPS packaging

Principal investigators: Radika Bhaskar and Janet Brady

University: Thomas Jefferson University

Industry partner: Think & Grow Farms

Packaging materials derived from mycelium, the root-like structure of mushrooms, have many advantages over environmentally harmful expanded polystyrene (EPS; e.g. styrofoam) including biodegradability, low embodied energy, and versatility to meet many structural needs. However, mycelium-biocomposites are challenging to produce at scale, due to lead times, controlling environmental conditions for growth, and variability of living organisms impacting critical material characteristics. This project will extend our collaboration with Think and Grow Farms (TGF), a M/WBE listed business, to move into a second phase, focusing on cost-effective upscaling of sustainable packaging production. We will assess fabrication steps to minimize the production timeline, by reducing growth time, reducing batch-to-batch variability in density, and improving assembly and repair timelines. This project will allow TGF to replace polystyrene in packaging to ship their existing line of sustainable products. It will also benefit established and burgeoning agricultural industries in Pennsylvania (mushrooms and hemp).