Not a hallucination: Dell testing mushroom cushions for server

High-tech giant is working with several U.S. customers to assess effectiveness, feasibility of material as a multi-pack packaging option.

First bamboo, now mushrooms. Yep, the creative packaging experts at high-tech giant Dell are testing packaging for one of its server models that uses mushrooms as the raw material for the packaging cushions.

Oliver Campbell, worldwide senior manager of packaging for Dell, says the mushroom-derived cushions will be used with the multipack edition of its PowerEdge 710 server which is a 2U unit. Although the company is still being pretty cagey about the details -- this is a test after all -- Campbell says the company has already been evaluating the material for about 11 months along with partners including Ecovative Design, which is a pioneer in the creation of compostable packaging (including some made from mushrooms). The mushroom-based cushions are being used instead of the polyethylene materials being used today. Dell is working on the test with a number of key customers in the United States.

"This is radically different than anything we have done," Campbell said.

Why mushrooms? Campbell says the material is denser than bamboo (which is used by Dell for some of its smaller mobile devices made in China), which means it can support the weight of a server more capably. Like bamboo, mushrooms grow quickly, which makes them intriguing as a source of agriculturally derived packaging materials. Ecovative notes that the mycellium it uses in its EcoCradle material (pictured to the left) are grown around byproducts such as buckwheat husks, oat hulls or cotton burrs into different shapes. The material is treated with heat at the end of the growth period so that spores don't develop.

No word on how long Dell will test the packaging before it moves forward with more products or more customers. It also won't characterize its relationship with Ecovative Design just yet. One thing that Campbell said will need particular attention is how easily Dell's test customers can compost the materials.

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