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By John Biggs
October 9, 2017
Wood. It doesn’t just grow on trees anymore.
Deforestation for agricultural and industrial purposes is an environmental scourge. Rainforest Action Network reports that each year, between 3.5 and 7 billion trees are cut down each year for production of things like timber, palm oil, fabric and paper. This consumption of the earth’s forest in service of commercial enterprises is non-sustainable, and leads to the eradication of thousands of plant and animal species.
As demand for wood and has skyrocketed, commercial industries have come up with engineered wood alternatives like pressboard and particleboard (think IKEA furniture). That industry has ballooned into a $300 billion a year market, which a just-launched company hopes to nab a piece of with its revolutionary process of creating wood-like material using entirely biodegradable waste products.
Materialize.X, a London-based bio-adhesive and machine learning company, debuted its proprietary technology at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco just last week.
Most engineered wood uses a binding agent called urea-formaldehyde, which the Food and Drug Administration has labeled a toxic carcinogen. Materialize.X has created a non-toxic alternative, which it intends to license to chemical companies and engineered wood manufacturers for on-site creation of the adhesive.
The company has also made great strides with a bio-composite wood alternative it calls BI-ORGANIC, which takes low-grade, readily available biomass, typically used as animal feed stock, and converts it into a wood-like substance using natural fibers, organic binding agent, plant waste, and other natural waste products from manufacturing plants.
The resulting material can be pressed and molded into all kinds of shapes, and the abundance of the raw materials required to create it makes it scalable even at a mass adoption level.
So far, the first market application of the material is as a deployable, biodegradable temporary floor and pathway for short-term events like festivals or exhibits. If you’ve ever been to a festival before, you know how bad a beating the ground takes being trammeled on by attendees. This material not only protects the ground beneath it, but naturally breaks down over time, adding nutrients to the soil beneath it. The BI-ORGANIC is given a “bio-plastic” coating, which governs how long it lasts. Depending on the thickness of this coating, it can degrade in two days, two months or two years, reacting to the ground’s natural moisture.
The non-toxic adhesive and manufactured wood-alternative BI-ORGANIC is only part of what Materialize.X has devised. A key component is its machine learning software which it provides to manufacturers of engineered wood to optimize their operations for creating the best product possible factoring in environmental or atmospheric conditions like temperature and humidity.
Materialize.X’s software factors all of that in and fine-tunes the process, which it says greatly improves the quality of the finished product. The software can be used by manufacturers using Materialize.X’s non-toxic adhesive or incorporated into existing operations using the old urea-formaldehyde adhesive, each time ensuring the proper amount of adhesive is used.
The company isn’t stopping at manufactured wood, either. According to TechCrunch, Materialize.X is in the process of testing its software’s algorithms to improve the production process in the steel industry as well.
As the population continues to increase, demand for building materials will grow right along with it. The more companies can devise ways to reduce our environmental footprint and natural resource consumption while creating viable alternatives to existing materials, the better off the population will be, and the better off the building and construction industry will be.
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