Building a supply chain is just one barrier to biocomposites going mainstream. When oil prices are relatively low, as they are today, there’s less economic incentive for companies to use biomaterials. In addition, companies happy with their current composites may be reluctant to make formulation changes and go through the rigorous testing procedures required to make the switch, observes Campanella.
At Ford, Mielewski hopes to overcome this reluctance by working with upper management on a company-wide policy that requires the use of biomaterials and recycled materials. Partanen thinks the outlook for biomaterials would improve if they received the same kind of government support that biofuels have been given.
Nevertheless, Campanella remains optimistic about the long-term outlook for biocomposites. “We think there will be a lot of opportunity in a few years, and we have to be prepared,” she says.
“We cannot depend upon a continuous stream of petroleum. No matter how you slice it, that is a limited resource,” adds Mielewski. It’s time to give robust, high-performance biocomposites the attention they deserve. “They are lighter, better for the planet, they produce less pollution and less landfill,” she says. “They have a lot of really positive aspects to them.”