INCA CMO interviewed by JEC Composites Magazine
INCA Renewtech transforms waste hemp biomass into advanced composites for the automotive, RV, marine, wind, and plastics industries. With “The Future of Natural Fibre Composites” as a motto, the company offers eco-friendly alternative to glass reinforced plastics by developing bioplastics that reduce carbon footprint of common applications. Awarded by the 2023 JEC World StartUp Booster program, JEC Composites Magazine interviewed Camille Saltman as co-founder of the company.
JEC Composites Magazine: Can you summarize the history of your company?
Camille Saltman: INCA Renewtech was founded by David Saltman, Gary Balthes, and I along with a team of serial entrepreneurs and materials and agricultural experts. David and Gary originally founded Flexform, the first natural fiber composite facility in North America which has enabled Ford, GM, Chrysler, Mercedes Benz and Tesla and others to produce automotive interiors that are stronger, lighter, less expensive and far more easily recycled than glass reinforced plastics.
Gary is a leading expert in the field of natural fiber composites and has received the Toyota Global Award for Sustainable Composite Technology. Prior to joining INCA he designed, built and operated the most sophisticated natural fiber composites facility in North America – Carver Non-Woven Technologies.
David has launched a series of successful clean tech ventures including building Malama Composites with me. Malama developed and manufactured the first full line of rigid urethane foams made from bio-based and recycled resources to replace petroleum-based PIR, PUR and phenolic foams, won the Award for Composites Excellence in Innovation from the ACMA and secured USDA Bio-Based Certification and Federal preferred purchasing status.
Could you explain where the idea of product/technology came from and your relationship with composites?
C.S.: Canadian-based INCA Renewable Technologies has the mission to become the world leader in natural fibre composites. Our initial goals include commercializing a lighter, stronger and even more sustainable prepreg for Toyota North America and extending this innovation into the RV, marine, wind energy, and consumer plastics industries, all of which are today seeking more sustainable, lighter, stronger and cost competitive solutions.
What is the originality and key benefits of your product/technology?
C.S.:Powerful market forces are leading industry to adopt more environmentally friendly, domestically sourced materials in their products. INCA Renewable Technologies is solving this pain point in the marketplace. Instead of procuring natural fiber from overseas, as competitors do, INCA is purchasing hemp biomass from Canadian farmers growing hemp seed for plant-based protein. Domestically sourcing and processing hemp lowers raw material and logistics costs and reduces supply chain challenges. The company will process this renewable resource into a set of proprietary high value products for major industrial customers.
In which sectors do you work the most? Have you been approached by major accounts?
C.S.: To achieve vertical integration INCA will operate two factories, one in Vegreville, Alberta, Canada within a 150-mile radius of hemp cultivation, and the second in Indiana, within 150 miles of customers in the automotive, RV, and consumer products industries.
Hemp has been legally cultivated in the Canadian Prairies for over 20 years where it is primarily grown for plant-based protein. The remaining stalks contain some of the strongest natural fiber on earth. Hemp sequesters three or more times CO2 than trees while it’s growing. It grows fast, is an excellent rotational crop due to the plant’s long tap root which breaks up the soil and doesn’t need much water. We’re using all parts of the hemp stalk leftover from hemp grown for protein – including long fibre, short fibre and hurd, the soft inner core for the stalk.
INCA PrePregsTM – INCA has developed a new methodology to produce automotive prepregs from a multi-layered mat of hemp and polypropylene fiber. The product reduces the amount of resin required, reducing weight, lowering costs and improving strength. INCA will be the first company to be able to recycle these parts back into new products on its own production line. INCA is engaged in a joint development agreement with Toyota North America to commercialize this product for their electric vehicle program.
INCA BioPanelsTM – RV sidewalls are made from Amazon rainforest plywood. In North America manufacturers use more than 600 million square feet a year, destroying the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Prices are rising, quality is falling and the industry is looking for a viable replacement. Fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) panels are being used in higher end vehicles but they are expensive and difficult to recycle. INCA has developed a hemp-based continuous 45 ft. panel for RV sidewalls. INCA BioPanels are stronger, lighter, fire and moisture resistance and enable unibody construction, consistent pricing, and a sustainable domestic supply chain. Genesis Products, INCA’s exclusive distributor, has facilitated a joint development agreement with Winnebago Industries for our entire panel production capacity, representing over 40 million sq. ft. per year.
INCA BioCoreTM – Low density and high strength make balsa wood an essential core material in boats and wind turbine blades. This demand has led to the deforestation of Ecuadorian forests. Prices are skyrocketing, quality is falling and balsa is in short supply. The wind and marine industries are substituting fossil fuel-based PET foam but offers much lower performance, is expensive and not sustainable environmentally. The global market for balsa and PET foams is $40.3 billion.
INCA has developed and patented a novel way of converting hemp hurd into INCA BioCore, to become a direct replacement for balsa wood and PET for installation in all sections of the turbine blades as well as marine core applications. We have signed a development and commercialization agreement with Gurit, a global manufacturer and distributor of composite solutions to the wind energy, aerospace and marine industries.
INCA BioPlasticsTM – The ingredients of glass reinforcement in plastics (sand, soda ash and limestone) are mined, creating significant negative environmental impact. To manufacture glass these ingredients must be heated to over 3,000 degrees F, generating CO2 emissions. Of equal concern is that plastics incorporate over 10,000 different chemicals in the manufacturing process. These range from bisphenol-A (BPA) to brominated flame retardants, which can interfere with the endocrine system, affect fertility, and even cause cancer. Lack of co-ordination between manufacturers means that many plastics that share similar properties have different chemical compositions, making recycling difficult, if not impossible.
INCA BioPlastics enable manufacturers to produce cost competitive, 100% bio-based, high-performance products. Our hemp-based BioPlastics are a direct substitute for polystyrene and other glass reinforced plastics. Our patented methodology to compound precisely dimensioned hemp fibre with bio-polymers improves the structural performance of the final products being produced by 2 to 3 times. Manufacturers can use the resulting pellets on their existing injection molding equipment.
Refined hemp fiber is an excellent substitute for glass fibre in the reinforcement of plastics because it is lighter and can be easily recycled back into functional materials at the end of its useful life. When compounded with bio-based polymers, it is not only recyclable but compostable.
What are the next steps for your company/product?
C.S.:We have completed line trials for the majority of our product lines and are now, with our commercialization partners, moving into PPAP testing for the automotive industry, lining up testing with end customers in the wind energy and marine fields, undertaking final customer verification for injection plastics, and also final testing for RV sidewalls.