What are the major trends regarding bio-based composites?
One of the biggest trends I see in the industry is within universities, which are really making bio-based products and technologies a priority. We are currently working closely with Mississippi State on some kenaf board that we licensed along with the University of Illinois. Universities may be at the forefront but ultimately the driving force is the consumer. People in America are realizing cheap is not so cheap. They want to buy something that lasts longer, that’s more sustainable and that they won’t throw away.
How is a push for bio-based materials reshaping the composite industry?
It’s a play on consumers looking at what the lifecycle of a product is and what materials go into a product. They now turn the label over to see what’s in the products they buy and the kind of things they give off. That in turn is greatly reshaping the industry. I also think manufacturers today are increasingly accountable to their shareholders as well for what they are putting into their products and how they are manufacturing products. Getting the recognition of being “green” drives change because it gives you an angle in a competitive market. The industry is in very much the beginning stages of how we utilize biomass-based materials. We turned over a stone, and we are finding new things in terms of what’s possible.
If you show your friends a new car you purchased that has biomass in it, they’ll think that’s cooler than the latest, greatest petroleum-based product—bio materials have a “Wow!” factor. People are not impressed by Ferraris and Hummers anymore. People tell me, “I didn’t think you could make that out of stuff in a field.” New, green products turn peoples’ heads and opens their eyes. It’s exciting to be a part of a new frontier. One key thing we have gotten away from in the past 50 years is to innovate. As a society, we’ve been living a good life enjoying what’s out there. I think right now there is a push and a fire within to get back to being innovators.
What biomasses do you see as becoming standard in the industry?
Everybody in the composites industry is thinking about that question right now; a new era has begun. I think we are going to see more things happen with source materials where we don’t have to first figure out how to get more people to grow it. So we will look at soybeans and different biomasses where there already is a massive amount of it out there so the price can be effective. Universities in all the states where there is lots of corn and soybeans are working really hard to find those different opportunities.