Camille Saltman says BioBalsa production generates 107% less greenhouse gas emissions and reduces waste generation by 93% compared to the cutting and milling of balsa wood. It generates 164% less carbon emissions than PET and has 99.56% less waste production and 93% less water consumption than foam production.

Gurit, an advanced composites supplier that works with the wind energy industry, was attracted to INCA Renewtech’s BioBalsa work in part because of the company’s emphasis on sustainability.

“The BioBalsa project fits nicely with Gurit’s ambitions as a sustainability leader,” says Thomas Nauer, the company’s head of marketing, communications and sustainability. “The wind turbine industry is aiming at zero-waste, recyclable turbine structures and is looking for ways to further reduce its greenhouse gas footprint. Therefore, a material that is both bio-based and made from recycled components is clearly a benefit and provides an answer to both sustainability and technology trends.”

Over the past nine months, INCA Renewtech has been working to engineer BioBalsa to Gurit’s specifications.

“We have the ability to formulate the product to meet very specific market demands,” explains Garry Balthes, chief technology officer. “We sent Gurit an initial product that we felt closely resembles or replicates balsa, and they tested it and provided data back on what direction we needed to go. That has allowed us to focus in on making adjustments to the formulation in order to meet the exact demands for whatever part of the wind blade the BioBalsa is going to be used for.”

Nauer notes that the specific properties of BioBalsa, including its density and the resin uptake of the material, will define the parts of a wind blade where it will be most suitable and competitive with other materials. BioBalsa is resin agnostic, but the percentage of resin in the material remains relatively low because of the properties found in natural fibers.

“Trees and plants in general have natural lignans that bind them together, so we can actually capture and utilize that lignan as a binder,” says Balthes. “We don’t go over 30% resin, whether it’s liquid resins, dry resins, a photoresist base, or a hybrid base. We’re probably going to be able to drop that percentage down even more.”

INCA Renewtech will mass produce BioBalsa at a new 164.000-square-foot hemp processing and composite manufacturing facility in Alberta, Canada, and its other hemp-based composites at a new 235,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Elkhart County, Ind.

IPCO AB, which has worked on other projects with INCA Renewtech, will design and manufacture the BioBalsa production equipment. Michael Tobiasz, IPCO’s regional product specialist and business development manager for composites in North America, says it will feature a Teflon double belt press that will consolidate the materials, heat them and exert the equalized surface pressure necessary for the desired calibration, thickness and densities of the material, and then cool it. The IPCO equipment will be a continuous process machine, capable of producing the long lengths of BioBalsa material that the wind blade industry might require.