Keith J. Masavage is Chief of Strategy and Operations for Biobent Polymers, a division of Univenture, Inc., in Marysville, Ohio. Biobent Polymers has exclusive worldwide marketing rights to a new bio-composite made from soy protein.
How did you get involved in bio-composite technology?
Every year, the U.S. Soybean Board takes around one percent of all profits from all soybean related sales and they use that money for a variety of different things, such as R&D. Each state has its own state organization and the Ohio Soybean Council came to Battelle because it wanted to do something to extend the usefulness of soy in the Ohio communities. They asked, “Do you think there’s a way to use soy in plastic?” and we said, “Sure, people have been doing bio-plastics for a long time.”
The real challenge, however, is the fact that after 80 years of existence, bio-plastics still only occupy one percent market share. The reason it’s such an incredibly small market share is the price is high and the performance of most bio-plastics is very poor. And, while some consumers might be willing to pay a small premium, right now the premium for bio-plastic is usually 20 to 40 percent.
What’s been the timeline of that development?
Biobent and Battelle originally started talking in the fall of 2009. We signed a preliminary agreement with Battelle in the summer of 2010, and then in January 2011 we launched Biobent Polymers. We spent most of last year working on our production side of things. Just because something works in a lab, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work on a large-production scale. So, we spend most of last year working out all the complexities of high-volume production.
How did the two companies solve the price-to-performance challenge?
There’s not been a very good monetary incentive for anyone to switch, and given the fact that the performance of those bio-plastics tends to be poor, Battelle had a real challenge on its hands. They said our goal was to be able to make bio-plastics that are comparable in price to regular petroleum-based plastic, and to be able to have better performance than that of a petroleum-based plastic. They worked at it for a little over a year, and they got to a point where they were ready to do some testing, that’s when they turned to Univenture, the parent company of BioPolymers.