UN Periódico - Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Imprimir Print
Science and technology

Example of mushroom waste after conversion to “Icoplan”. - Photo: personal file

Creating biodegradable polystyrene from mushroom waste

By: Agencia de Noticias UN

A group of students from Universidad Nacional in Medellín is utilizing the waste from abandoned edible mushroom heaps and turning it into biodegradable polystyrene for commercial use.

Researchers have discovered that waste utilized in commercial mushroom farming, such as sawdust, grass, plantain leaves, coffee waste, amongst others are compacted after being mixed with mycelium, the reproductive colonies of fungi. Furthermore it has an assembly quality that enables the creation of an element similar to polystyrene.

The process consists of collecting the waste or units left over after mushroom harvesting and then building “a standard block providing a uniform size (1 to 2 kilos); this is performed using a manual hydraulic press in order to minimize energy expense, emissions and water consumption”, according to Laura Soto, a student of Industrial Engineering in the Mining College.

After the material is produced, another machine is used to form the packing material used for glasses, candles, wine bottles and other similar products. The process is completed with a baking and evaporation procedure, which helps to eliminate the moisture and finalize the production of the polystyrene.

To manufacture the “artificial” polystyrene, byproducts from oyster, ganoderma and shiitake mushrooms are removed in order to avoid contaminating people. UN students get these materials from mushroom growers of Antioquia, that generally don’t make an adequate use of agricultural byproducts.

This student initiative is environmentally friendly, as besides recycling mushroom waste materials, it can have a lifetime of between 6 and 12 months after its processing, without any environmental complications. After the product cycle is completed, it can be dumped in a natural location and it will naturally decompose without affecting the environment.

Laura Soto claims this model is only used in the United States and that in Colombia, work is done with biodegradable plastic based on flower crop wastes. The student says this is a low cost strategy and bio-sustainable, as production profitability is 0,7% on investment.

The technological proposal, named “Icoplan”, has been well accepted by the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje- SENA. This entity has supported the idea of the six future engineers from the Medellín campus.

UN Periodico English 7