Tradewinds blow for INCA Renewtech
In Canada, biocomposite developer INCA Renewable Technologies Inc (INCA Renewtech) has divulged plans to manufacture a “high-performance, cost-competitive” alternative to tropical balsa wood and fossil polyethylene terephthalate (PET) thermoplastic foams used to construct wind turbine blades and boats.
The biocomposite product will be manufactured at a new CA$72-million state-of-the-art 200 000-square-foot fibre processing and composites manufacturing facility to be built in Vegreville, Alberta (AB).
Replace balsa wood and PET
The demand for balsa wood, particularly for wind turbine blades, has led to deforestation in Ecuador where it is a native species.
Plantations now account for 60 percent of supply but the quality is falling, prices are rising, and manufacturers are seeking viable alternatives.
PET foam on the other hand is more expensive than balsa, generates significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and does not offer the same compressive strength.
The “short and long” of hemp fibre
According to INCA Renewtech, its “BioBalsa” composite with hemp fibre is cost-competitive with balsa and can achieve superior performance due to its higher compressive strength, sustainability and moisture, and fire resistance.
We will process this renewable resource into a highly refined fibre. The short fibre will be transformed into INCA BioBalsa, said David Saltman, Chairman and CEO, INCA Renewtech.
He added that the long fibre is also used in other biocomposite products.
The long fibre will be sent via rail to our second factory in Bristol, Indiana where we will manufacture BioPanels for the RV industry, PrePregs for the automotive industry and BioPlastics for the consumer products industry. Our commercialization partners include Winnebago and Toyota, David Saltman explained.
Climate positive LCA
An independent lifecycle report conducted by GreenStep Solutions Inc. has demonstrated that INCA’s hemp-based BioBalsa is far more sustainable than balsa wood.
We have helped over 3 000 businesses and corporations measure and reduce their environmental impacts through independent energy, waste, carbon, and lifecycle analysis, said Angela Nagy, President, and CEO of GreenStep Solutions.
A schematic of a wind turbine blade illustrating where the BioBalsa is used in the construction instead of balsa wood or PET foam (illustration courtesy INCA Renewtech).
One cubic meter of BioBalsa sequesters 260 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). During the manufacturing process, BioBalsa generates 107 percent less GHG emissions and reduces waste generation by 93 percent versus cutting and milling balsa wood.
The lifecycle report we conducted for INCA Renewtech took into account the environmental impacts of extraction, production, resource use, and end-of-life disposal, Angela Nagy said.
It generates 164 percent fewer carbon emissions than PET, almost 100 percent less waste production and 93 percent lower water consumption.
Our report concluded that all of the INCA products assessed, dramatically reduced carbon emissions and environmental impacts, when compared to competitive products made of petroleum, wood, or fiberglass, said Angela Nagy.
Healthy hemp production in Alberta
Hemp has been legally grown in the Canadian Prairies since 1998, primarily for plant-based protein.
According to the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture, Alberta is now a global leader in the production of sustainably grown hemp and is responsible for 40 percent of Canada’s hemp production.
INCA Renewtech will also receive a grant of up to CA$400 000 through the Emerging Opportunities program under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, for the new facility.
The program supports “strategic initiatives that contribute to significant sector growth and job creation in Alberta.”
INCA’s purchase of waste hemp fibre from local farmers will now make hemp a dual-use cultivar and one of the most valuable cash crops in the Prairies.
When ramped to capacity, INCA’s operation will purchase 54 000 tonnes of biomass per year generated from farmers growing hemp for plant-based protein.