Executive Interview: cycleWood Solutions

This month we interviewed Kevin Oden, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of cycleWood  Solutions.  cycleWood Solutions specializes in biodegradable and compostable thermoplastic that can be applied in a variety of commercial plastics, including cups, plates, and bags.

cycleWood Solutions has recently introduced their innovative new resin called Xylomer. Why Xylomer?

  • Various Applications: Xylomer can be applied in a variety of commercial plastics, including flexible films and injection molded applications.  It can be blended with compostable polymers to be 100% biodegradable.  Or, it can be blended with other plastics, which create more environmentally friendly plastic substitutes.
  • Sustainability: Xylomer is composed of modified lignin, a part of the tree that has thus far been discarded by the paper manufacturing industry.  Utilizing an abundant byproduct rather than cutting down trees makes Xylomer very sustainable.
  • Environmental Impacts: Compostable materials using Xylomer fully break down in 90 days once in a composting facility.  Other blends decrease our dependence on oil-based plastics.
  • Government Regulation: Our technology can be adopted to make products compliant with ongoing government efforts to improve the environmental impacts of plastics.

Q.  Can you give our readers a brief overview of how cycleWood Solutions began?

A.  CycleWood Solutions Inc. was founded on the idea and the guiding principle that sustainable alternatives can be substituted for materials produced from fossil fuels. Today, cycleWood is the global leader in commercialized modified lignin with a strong intellectual property portfolio consisting of process and product trade secrets, 6 allowed patents, 2 pending patents, and 3 registered trademarks.  The company began working with lignin modifications in the fall of 2011 and developed a commercially scalable process by the end of 2013. The following year this technology was brought on-line with partner production facilities, and by the end of 2014 cycleWood’s compostable trash bag, the Xylobag™, was on retail store shelves and available online.  In less than three years, cycleWood has taken an idea from concept to development to commercialization.  CycleWood also garnered several awards and accolades along the way, including a Bronze Edison Award in 2012.  Most importantly, the National Science Foundation recognized the significance of cycleWood’s work by awarding the company Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grants totaling nearly $900k.  In addition to these grants, cycleWood is also eligible for a Phase IIB award that provides a 50% match to outside investment up to $1 million dollars.

Q.  I see on your website a case study of your product in Houston, Texas. What other cities and groups are embracing your technology?

A.   Over the past 2 years, cycleWood has worked with the Retail Products Group (RPG), a division of NCH Corporation, to conceptualize, develop, and launch several modified lignin-based products, most notably the Greenpups™ pet waste bags.

We are also working with Carts and Parts to expand our XylobagTM line into other markets and retail chains.

Q.  What are your visions for cycleWood Solutions over the next 5-10 years?

A. We envision cycleWood’s technology to be incorporated into many products as the market for bioplastics grows over the next 5-10 years. We see a great opportunity for collaboration with one of our partners by incorporating our technology into their production processes allowing us to create a low cost, plastic alternative.

Q.  Are you currently raising capital?

A.  CycleWood is currently raising an additional round of funding to finance operations through 2016. CycleWood is currently raising an additional round of funding to finance operations through 2016.

Q.  Any additional comments?

A.  Lignin is a waste product of the paper making process. Historically, this natural polymer has low value in paper manufacturing or specialty chemicals, generally viewed as byproduct in material processing.  Lignin is a hydrophobic, organic polymer naturally occurring in the cell walls of plants.  Numerous methods have been developed to remove lignin from plant fibers, which generally gets burned to generate electricity.  CycleWood has used a significant portion of their funding to re-engineer the chemistry related to creating the modified lignin.  Part of the BPI compostable certification process was qualifying cycleWood’s modified lignin as a natural material.  This was done through a biobased carbon analysis, ASTM D6866-12 Method B.  The testing was done by a certified independent lab, and the analysis showed that the modified lignin carbon composition was 96% or greater biobased carbon.  This illustrates how minor a modification cycleWood’s process makes to the original lignin.

Since lignin is produced during the paper manufacturing process, no additional trees or plants need to be harvested to access this abundant raw material.  CycleWood’s technology makes more efficient use of existing natural resources.  The compostable Xylobag™ is cycleWood’s flagship product, and it demonstrates one of the many applications in which lignin can be used as a substitute for traditional petroleum based plastics.  However, the modified lignin can be used in a variety of applications and processing methods.  For example, cycleWood’s modified lignin can be incorporated into a masterbatch as a lower cost renewable and compostable functional additive.  It is compatible with various common polymers such as polypropylene (PP) and linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE).  When combined with fossil fuel based polymers, it reduces the carbon impact of the polymer system.  Depending on the application, it can be used at loadings of 30-50%.  It is also compatible with biodegradable aliphatic polyesters to create a renewable, biodegradable plastic solution.  The material has higher compatibility with aliphatic polyesters with load rates of 40-60% for certain applications.  The resulting materials maintain good elasticity and appear to have improved tear resistance.  Lignin also improves the flexural modulus or stiffness of the resulting product, and lignin adds some UV protection and antioxidant properties.



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