The Ekofungi team believes in sustainable processes and sustainable business growth. That is why we are building our production on sustainable grounds, while continuously inventing sustainable technologies in line with Blue Economy principles. We respect nature in every step of our production process, taking as little and giving back as much as we can, making the most of all production by-products.
An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It is a great burden on the climate when valuable food is wasted either in production, in retail, or at home in our kitchens.
This fact was one of the motivators that led us to our first innovation, in collaboration with the Department for Systemic Design (Turin University) – mushroom cultivation on coffee residue.
As biologists, we have based our production of mushrooms on the biological characteristics of these organisms, instead of not considering their needs and putting our focus only on the technology. By carefully researching the physiological requirements of mushrooms, we had the initial idea that evolved into mushroom-from-waste projects, resulting in multiple successfully implemented projects across four continents. We helped establish various mushroom farming businesses that use various waste available locally like recycled brewing residues, apple branches, water hyacinth biomass, salt cedar biomass, pineapple residues, banana leaves, and weeds biomass.
Our latest endeavor is the collaboration with the Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region aimed to standardize the cultivation of edible mushrooms on instant coffee residual material. The farm will be constructed and equipped based on our Ekofungi technology and adapted to the specifics of the location, such as locally available by-products and climate conditions.
With our pioneer project of mushroom cultivation on coffee sludge, we have shown that everyday waste can create new value.
Another Step Beyond
The next venture for Ekofungi has been to establish oyster mushroom substrate production. In 2010, the price of gas that we planned to use in the process skyrocketed, making the project too costly. This fact has led our research team, guided by our founder Ivanka Milenković, to reverse the adopted practice and invent a completely new process for substrate production – a process without heat and energy consumption.
The standard technology for substrate production for cellulosic mushrooms cultivation, such as oyster and shiitake, involves a large consumption of energy for heating or the steaming of materials used (most often straw). It is a method that consumes about 95 kilowatts of energy per ton of material. It is not only expensive, but it is also a process that has a very unfavorable impact on the environment due to its high emission of harmful gases.
The basic principle of the Blue Economy is to strive for harmony with nature and that is exactly what we have done. We have placed the mushroom and its biological requirements in focus, as well as setting our starting point at what they need to grow. This has led to our innovative solution for substrate preparation that eliminates heating from the process, resulting in zero-emission of harmful gases and lower energy consumption.
With the support from the Innovations Fund of Serbia, we have been able to conduct all the necessary research and have implemented the method for substrate preparation based on any cellulosic material which we have been using since 2013.
The idea for the machine was instigated by a group of Ekofungi School graduates and their desire to easily employ this method for their sustainable mushroom project Rotterzwam. With the immense support from Friends Who Love Blue Economy, the Ekofungi engineering team has designed and built the machine that utilizes our innovative method of cellulose waste processing.
The “Washing Washing” Machinery, as we call it, works similarly to a regular washing machine. Instead of laundry, the input is various cellulose waste from forestry and agriculture, locally available, which is in line with Blue Economy principles: to only use materials available in our surroundings. The machine can process any organic cellulose waste (except coniferous), such as wood, straw, sawdust, twigs, and such. The substrate preparation starts with the program selection for the type of cellulose waste to be processed, water, and some electric energy.
This technology of substrate preparation eliminates heating, which is a must in standard processes and follows biological requirements – not only for the cultivated fungus but also for its competitors, i.e. pathogen. The final product is the material on which the mycelium of the fungus grows. The substrate obtained with this method can be used for growing edible mushrooms and for growing mycelium of fungi species used to produce insulating boards, cheese boxes, etc.
Our Ekofungi technology for cellulose waste processing consumes 5 kilowatts of energy and has no harmful impact on our environment, as opposed to 95 kilowatts per ton of substrate needed for heating used in conventional processes and resulting in a huge emission of harmful gases. Low energy consumption, raw material availability, and eco-friendliness makes this technology an example of sustainable practice and easily applicable to urban farming.