Finding the lean in green technology
I n today's shifting manufacturing landscape, it's not enough to simply be green. As one budding Ontario company can attest, it's also essential to be lean and mean.
In today’s shifting manufacturing landscape, it’s not enough to simply be green. As one budding Ontario company can attest, it’s also essential to be lean and mean.
Toronto-based GreenCore Composites Inc. is currently working to commercialize pelletized natural fibre composites (NFC). The company is developing its Green Inside pellets, made with cellulosic fibres and thermoplastics for injection molding and extrusion, and expects to commercialize the product this year.
Based on the NFC technology pioneered by Dr. Mohini Sain at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Forestry and Chemical Engineering, Green Inside pellets offer automotive and other manufacturers with a greener alternative to traditional products made with petroleum feedstock.
The company also notes that GreenCore’s technology helps create a composite that is significantly stronger than the base polymer. In fact, the company believes their pellets possess the performance characteristics to replace materials such as glass fibre reinforced composites in many applications.
“The benefit of [cellulosic] fibre compared to glass fibre is the reduced environmental footprint, including the ability to recycle,” noted Sam Hasan, GreenCore’s vice president of marketing and development. “Glass fibre also causes equipment wear, whereas natural fibres don’t.”
Hasan was previously the executive vice-president at Edmonton, Alta.-based AT Plastics Inc., and has more than two decades of experience in the Canadian plastics industry. As well, GreenCore is headed by Geoff Clarke, who is perhaps best known for his work at AT Plastics, and for his involvement with the Centre for Materials and Manufacturing (CMM) of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).
“OCE provided funds to [Dr. Sain’s research project] to commercialize it and Geoff had just left OCE,” explained Hasan. “Dr. Sain asked him to come on board.”
GreenCore was founded in 2005, and since then the company has worked to obtain financing in order to install a manufacturing plant. The patented technology behind the Green Inside pellets was developed at Dr. Sain’s research lab and then further refined at a leased facility in the US.
But even though the company has a viable and innovative product to market, Hasan says GreenCore must improve its productivity while commercializing the pellets.
“We know we can improve the productivity of our manufacturing infrastructure,” said Hasan. “Our business plan calls for our productivity to be much higher than what we saw in our leased facility in the US. We need to be able to compete at a parity dollar.”
GreenCore recently became the first investment of the Ontario BioAuto Council Commercialization Fund. The council announced that the company would receive $755,000 for “scale-up production, process enhancement and market development.”
“The innovation showcased in the Green Inside pellets produced by GreenCore Composites made our decision to invest very easy,” said council chair Bernard West in a statement. “The BioAuto Council is excited to support the commercialization of this world class technology in an Ontario enterprise.”
For its existing machinery, Green- Core is looking at process control software and other implementations that would enhance productivity. Also, the company is bringing on some more equipment, with the council funding helping to foot half of the bill.
GreenCore hopes to go to market with the technology fall 2008, followed by another round of financing to start up a large production facility in 2009.