A school project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute just might result in the creation of a new eco-friendly insulation material. Recent graduates Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre are continuing to develop a product they first started working on in a class on sustainable housing. The fire-retardant product, dubbed "Greensulate-M," is made up of water, flour, oyster mushroom spores, and perlite (a mineral used in potting soil).

The duo is also developing another type of insulation, "Greensulate-R," which uses recycled polystyrene or Styrofoam as the insulating particle. According to their research, there currently is only a 10 percent recycle rate of polystyrene. Using recycled packing peanuts and drinking cups as an insulation product would reduce material costs while reusing a landfill-bound product.

According to Bayer, Greensulate-M, which the team envisions as an alternative to foam insulation, is created by pouring a mixture of insulating particles, hydrogen peroxide, starch, and water into a panel mold. Next, mushroom cells are injected into the mold, where they digest the starch and produce a network of insulating particles. The end result is an organic composite board with resistance to heat flow and can serve as a firewall.

Currently, the team is testing Greensulate-M for moisture resistance and edibility by rodents and insects. McIntyre identifies moisture resistance as the biggest roadblock in developing Greensulate-M.

The two young inventors say they hope to continue their testing over the next year and plan to begin developing the products on a larger scale within that same time frame.

If testing for Greensulate is a success, the product will join other eco-friendly insulations such as cellulose (made from finely shredded newsprint that has been treated for mold and fire resistance), spray polyurethane foam, cotton fiber (recycled denim), and eco-friendly fiberglass (which generally incorporates recycled materials).