Mushrooms: A product with potential

From their first experiments at home to a startup that aims to revolutionize the packaging industry: Mycrobez offers the mass market a promising alternative to foam packaging that’s made entirely of compostable mushroom-based composite.

14/02/2022
Evelyn Reusser

Whether in the box that holds a new television set or an online order, foam packing components offer lightweight protection from damage. But while petroleum-based packaging solutions are rec-y-clable, they are not biodegradable. Mycrobez offers a sustainable alternative. The startup, which was founded by Mosas Pilscheur, Jonas Staub, and Moritz Schiller in 2019, inoculates organic waste with mushroom mycelium in order to produce a packaging material that is compostable, breaking down completely within 30 to 90 days.

 

Mycelium – a silver bullet

Unlike the mushrooms we use in cooking, Mycrobez produces its CompoPack not from the fruiting body of the mushroom but rather from its roots, which are known as mycelium. To make packaging, the mycelium must first be cultivated. For this, Mycrobez inoculates agricultural waste with fungal spores. Over the course of about three days, the spores grow through the substrate, creating a mass called mycelium composite. If placed inside any shape of mold, the composite will continue to grow to completely fill the mold. In this growth phase, material properties such as weight, density, insulation, and shock resistance can be influenced. Once it has grown to the desired degree, the mass is removed from the mold and dehydrated, killing off the fungus and reducing the weight of the final packaging material. The resulting material has a shelf life similar to wood. It only begins to decompose when it comes into contact with water and bacteria, such as in a home compost system or in nature.

 

More than just a sustainable idea

In order for this packaging material to be successful on the market, there has to be a lot of it. As CEO Mosas Pilscheur explains, there are already several producers of mycelium-composite packaging. However, they still make all of their products manually. As a result, the finished product is relatively expensive and available only in smaller quantities. Mosas Pilscheur is aware that, “In order to offer a real alternative to foam packaging, our solution has to not only provide the same characteristics, but it also has to be cheaper. It’s the only way to reduce styrofoam use. Otherwise, we’re simply offering the CompoPack as yet another green alternative that’s really no different from the others already out there.” He and his co-founders aim to integrate the biological process into industrial-scale mass production. And that is the main challenge the three young entrepreneurs face. They have already developed the key process steps for automated production. The prototype works and offers a basis for the successful continuation of their endeavor.

“A real startup vibe”

The fascination with mushrooms as a raw material started with Jonas Staub’s senior project for high school graduation. “We did our first mycelium experiments with breakfast mushrooms we had ordered from Amazon,” says Mosas Pilscheur. The three friends were soon sold on the idea and decided to pursue it further. They have built their own laboratory in Pilscheur’s father’s wine cellar covering about 60 square meters. “It has a real startup vibe,” says Pilscheur. “One of our first milestones in 2022 will be to move into a bigger, purpose-built production plant.”

05/09/2022

Great commitment to a visionary idea

Right now, Mycrobez is focusing on a variety of pilot projects. Their idea has received strong interest in their target industries. Apart from successful financing rounds and winning startup challenges, this affirmation from industry is an important sign for the young company that they are on the right track. There is still much to be done in the months ahead: For now, they are focusing on implementing the industrial production process, aiming to have it established by 2024. In order to be prepared for scaling up operations, the founders are in talks with potential strategic partners. The startup is currently in the seed financing round.

 

Mycrobez has a lot of potential. The vision is to create a platform for upcycling waste that reaches across industries. Their production process offers a means to upcycle waste materials and mycelium into a variety of products, ranging from insulation for the construction industry to design applications. Right now, however, the startup is concentrating on marketing its packaging solution, highlighting the potential for recycling used products into fertilizer that can be employed to restore soil fertility. In that way, Mycrobez aims to shape a profitable circular economy. To bring their visionary ideas to fruition, the founders are buckling down and counting on a broad and capable network.

About the company

Number of employees: 7
Founded in: 2019
Headquarters: Basel
Area of activity: Producing sustainable packaging material
Noteworthy: If they are successful in automating their process for industrial mass production, the startup will be among the world’s top producers of sustainable packaging materials.