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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

How Was the SAMPE Conference?

I’m back again this week after taking a week off to attend the SAMPE Conference in Long Beach.  And, just to give you a preview, it was fabulous.  The conference was well attended – probably at least 1500 people or maybe more.  And, just to give you an idea of how many people were there, by the time I got in line for the food at the reception, the two lines (one on each side of the food table) were already out the door and onto the veranda.  By the time I got up to the food table, it was all gone and they weren’t going to bring any more out.  Lots of people attended and listened to all of the presentations.


Keynote Speaker – Stephen Heinz VP of R&I Syensco Composite Materials

I learned quite a bit about the business when I was there and had a chance to chat with leadership of a few of the larger composite material suppliers.  The keynote speaker (pic above) was Steven Heinz who is VP of R&I (actually R&D in English) of a newly formed company – Syensco – that is the composite materials arm of what was originally Solvay.  If you remember from some previous posts when I talked about bio-based acrylonitrile for making carbon fiber, Solvay is in the midst of scaling up technology originally developed by Southern Research to where they can make more like tons of the stuff as a carbon fiber precursor.  Just to remind you of a little history about this, Southern Research came up with a method for using ag waste biomass to make pure acrylonitrile, which Trillium is in the midst of scaling up in partnership with what is now Syensco.  They have trademarked their product bio-ACN™ and are scaling up their process to use as feedstocks to the acrylonitrile business.  This includes precursors for rubber products, ABS plastic, acrylic fiber for clothing, and carbon fiber.  In any case, the Solvay Group broke up and the composites arm became Syensco. 

I got a chance to chat with Stephen for a little bit about what Syensco is doing and what they are investing in the scale up.  These folks are serious about developing completely renewable (read as plant-based) feedstocks to the plastics industry as a replacement for the petrochemicals that are being used today to make these compounds.  And, while they are a ways off from being in full production, they are scaling up as rapidly as they can, even building a completely new line for making polyacrylonitrile. 


SAMPE Attendees Listening to Keynote Presentation

Since my talk was on Wednesday morning, I spent most of the day on Tuesday listening to presentations that were not only of interest to me, but were also where top leadership of companies and leaders of organizations (mostly in Europe) that gave a top level summary of their efforts in sustainability.  There was one gentleman, Eric Moussiaux, VP of technology at Excel Composites that gave the EUCIA (European Composites Industry Association) perspective on Composites Sustainability.  I had a brief chat with Eric about his presentation and the EUCIA perspective when he was finished and invited him to come to my talk the next morning.  And, I actually used some of what he said when I gave my presentation.  As expected, the Europeans are far ahead of us in the US, primarily because the EU countries have made commitments to the Union that each one of them would meet some very aggressive targets. 

I also spent a good bit of time on the exhibits floor, primarily tracking down the large carbon fiber manufacturers, Toray and Teijin, as well as a couple of others, to find out what they are doing in sustainability and plant-based acrylonitrile.  What I found out is that they have already done the initial work, and have formulations from their labs that they are working on getting certified to industry standards.  This was a far more welcome response than what I got at the Carbon Fiber Conference last December.  I had suspected that these companies had already gotten the message and had things that they were keeping under wraps until they had a qualified product that they could sell into the aerospace market.

In my talk I laid out a roadmap for how the industry can get to a sustainable future and get off of the petroleum based material precursors.  I have talked about this quite a bit in this newsletter, so I actually got a chance to talk directly to the industry folks themselves about this and what each one of them can do in their own companies.  And, of course the basic message that I was trying to convey was that they needed to completely upend their business models while still staying in business and being profitable.  This, of course is not going to be easy nor can it be done overnight but it is coming, so I let all of them in the audience know how each of them can get started right now so that when they finally get their plant-based material precursors up to a scale where they are the majority of the basis of their product lines they will have already gone through the pain of scale up and will be able to make a profit selling their materials.  My talk was well received, and surprisingly I did not get any pushback from the industry.  Instead, people seemed to take in the message and appreciate that I had provided them a pathway to a sustainable future.  Interestingly, I was approached by Alexandre Guillet, Content Director for the JEC world conference that is held each year in Paris.  This is the largest composites conference in the world every year, and Alexandre asked me if I would be willing to give a talk at the next JEC World in 2025.  That was a surprise to me, and actually quite exciting for me to think about.  I of course let Alexandre know that I would love to come to JEC World next year and give a talk about sustainability of composites. 

Directly after my talk was a panel session titled “Sustainability and Circularity in the Advanced Materials Industry”.  Stephen from Syensco was on that panel, along with representatives that are responsible for either research or Directors of Sustainability from 3M, Boeing, Hexcel, Teijin Carbon America, and a Research Director at the University of Washington responsible for Engineering, Test, and Technology at Boeing.  This was a group of people from the organizations I was targeting with my talk that are responsible for their company’s sustainability efforts.  By and large they were providing much the same message I had just left everyone with in my talk.  I went up and talked to all of them directly after the panel and thanked them for their presentations and perspectives.  This was probably the highlight of my experience at SAMPE, because it appears that the industry has gotten the message and are actively engaged and spending R&D dollars to make plant-based sustainable composite materials a reality. 

In all, a fantastic time spent in Long Beach for me.  I am so pleased that the industry has awakened to their future and are actively pursuing a sustainable future now and not waiting until environmental regulations force them to upend their business models.  That is exactly the message I wanted to get across, and it has apparently been heard, not only by me, but in the Corporate Boardrooms of the major composite material suppliers.

That’s about it for this week.  I hope everyone that reads these posts enjoys them as much as I enjoy writing them.  As usual I will post this first on my website – www.nedpatton.com – as well as on LinkedIn.  And if anyone wants to provide comments to this, I welcome them with open arms.  Comments, criticisms, etc. are all quite welcome.  I really do want to engage in a conversation with all of you about composites because we can learn so much from each other as long as we share our own perspectives. 

If I do actually get a real invitation to speak at JEC World in Paris next year, I will let everyone know about it well in advance.  It is March 4-6 at Paris Nord-Villepinte which is a large conference center located near the Charles de Gaulle airport, the main international airport in Paris.  This conference is huge, with 43,500+ attendees in 2024 and 1300+ exhibitors in 27 pavilions.

And, finally, I still need to plug my book, so here’s the plug.  The book pretty much covers the watershed in composites, starting with a brief history of composites, then introducing the Periodic Table and why Carbon is such an important and interesting element.  The book was published and made available last August, and is available both on Amazon and from McFarland Books – my publisher.  However, the best place to get one is to go to my website and buy one.  I will send you a signed copy for the same price you would get charged on Amazon, except that I charge $8 shipping.  Anyway, here’s the link to get your signed copy:  https://www.nedpatton.com/product-page/the-string-and-glue-of-our-world-signed-copy.  And as usual, here’s a picture of the book, for those of you just tuning in. 






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