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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

News About Composites Sustainability – Mostly Good!

First, my apologies for going off the grid – so to speak – for the last few weeks.  Moving, selling a house, getting an apartment at the destination, lugging most of our stuff to San Diego and then meeting the movers back in Sunnyvale over a weekend, etc. takes a lot of work, concentration, etc.  The good news, however, is that there is now a mountain of boxes in our front room to go through over the next few weeks.  Getting to this point has been a challenge, but it’s done. 

And I’m back!  This week I wanted to chat a little bit about composites sustainability and bring everyone up to speed on some of the better news stories.  It turns out that in pretty much every sector of the business there are bright spots and companies winning awards for their sustainability efforts.  So, I thought this week I would let everyone know what I found. 

I want to start with building materials, because that is one of the fastest growing sectors of the composites business, and is also one that can be made sustainable fairly quickly.  It is after all forest products waste that is one of the growing feedstocks for sustainable composites. 

There is a company in New London, North Carolina called Fiberon® that makes a wood-look building cladding product they call Wildwood™ that is made from 94% reused/recycled wood fiber and plastic material that would otherwise be destined for a landfill.  In April of this year, they won an award from Green Builder for their cladding.  This stuff looks like wood siding and is far more resistant to rot and water damage than your typical wood siding.  In this same issue of Green Builder (, there are a number of other companies that won awards for everything from appliances, bath and lighting, decking,

construction lumber, and heating and cooling to insulation products.  The list is extensive and demonstrates that the construction industry is all in on sustainability.  It also shows that the construction industry is also making use of the wonderful properties that composite materials affords them.  Not only did Fiberon® win an award for their building cladding or siding, there were a number of other composites that are showcased in these awards.  There are the composite construction materials that I have talked about as replacements for your typical 2x4, composite decking from TimberTech, and there is even a panel that is a sandwich of plywood with an insulating layer of urethane foam that can be used as a building panel instead of studs and sheathing.  Lots of sustainability solutions are showing up in the building materials marketplace, which is a wonderful thing. 

One interesting company I came across in my search is Sustainable Composites in Lancaster, PA.  From the name of the company, you wouldn’t expect that this is a recycled and reclaimed leather company.  Their product is made from scrap leather that they have developed a market for rather than allowing it to go to a landfill.  They have a unique product in their upcycled leather waste, and on top of that have developed the complete supply chain for their raw materials.  They have two programs ongoing to collect leather

scrap.  One is with the leather goods industry which has quite a bit of scrap leather because leather doesn’t come in standard shapes and sizes the way fabric does.  And there are fairly large parts of the tanned skins that can’t be used for much of anything.  The other is with post-consumer leather products.  These are old worn out shoes, leather jackets, leather hats, basically anything that is worn out and the consumer no longer wants it.  Their post-consumer upcycling program is a major source of raw material for their upcycled leather products.  Once they process the reclaimed leather, they end up with a standard 54” wide product that can be cut, shaped, sewn, and made into new leather products.  So, that old leather seat from the trashed BMW can be upcycled into a new leather seat for a new high end EV.  And this stuff can be upcycled again and again until it is completely worn out or decomposed completely.  Interestingly enough, this is actually a fairly unique composite material since it is basically more than one raw material that is mixed in a clever way to make a product that has different, and actually enhanced, properties than either of the other raw materials used to make it. 

So, there you have a couple of fairly unique bright spots.  How about the efforts of existing companies that are not well known for their sustainability efforts.  Well, I found a couple that deserve mention.  One is a company that everyone should know about, that is known more for past dirty deeds than most.  I’m talking here about Exxon/Mobil – yes the infamous oil and gas company that is being sued by multiple states and localities that allege that the company lied for decades, both to its investors and to regulatory agencies, about their role in climate change and the dangers of burning fossil fuels.  They were of course the biggest target because ExxonMobil is the largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world.  So, I found it interesting to see that they are investing heavily in sustainability, primarily in the processing of plastic waste into new products.  They have an ongoing program now that they are calling “Advanced Recycling”.  They have recognized that as little as 9% of the plastic in use today is recycled at end of use.  This is due to several reasons, but primarily it is because our plastics industry is as creative as it is, and is able to mix different types of plastics into the same product – effectively making an all plastic composite material.  And as I have said a number of times, composites are inherently hard to take apart at end of life precisely because they are made up of two different materials with very different properties to make something that has a unique set of properties that can be tailored to the particular use for which it is designed.   Exxon is addressing this problem head on by developing processes for taking apart the combined plastic waste and rendering it into gaseous or liquid form to use as feedstock for new plastics.  Most plastic recycling focuses on easy to recycle plastic, which is why only 9% of plastic is recycled.  The ExxonMobil process takes on the hard to recycle plastic and makes use of it for raw materials for new plastics.  Their process and supply chain is actually fairly complete.  They start with collection of plastics that would otherwise go to a landfill, then they sort it into easy to recycle and hard to recycle.  From there they send the easy to recycle plastic to existing plastic recyclers.  The hard to recycle plastic they grind up and do another sorting that separates the easier to recycle parts that can be mechanically recycled and the harder to recycle parts that take some clever chemistry.  This stuff is sorted, shredded, and the mechanical recyclable material goes to traditional recyclers whereas the harder stuff to deal with goes to advanced recycling.  They have a facility in Baytown, Texas that can process 40,000 metric tons of this hard to recycle plastic, and there are plans to expand that facility to handle 500,000 metric tons of this stuff a year by 2027.  That is a very significant investment in something that is good for the planet and for the overall plastics and composites industry, and they deserve credit for doing the right thing.  Apparently ExxonMobil has learned their lesson and is actually doing things to right the ship and keep the company alive and profitable well into the future.  Good to see in what has been one of the more difficult industries to convince that they need to change their business model fairly quickly or they will be out of business in the future. 

Finally, I wanted to talk a little bit about what is going on in the developed world at organizations like the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), JEC in the EU, the Composites Trade Association in the UK, and The American Society for Composites (ASC).  All of these organizations have multiple ongoing efforts to put sustainability of composites on the front burner of all sectors of the industry.  JEC World has held conferences in the past few years with large sustainability programs, and this coming year in Paris the entire conference is going to be focused on sustainability in the composite materials industry.  I’m hoping that I have a chance to attend and present my roadmap to the industry at that conference, the same way I did at the SAMPE conference in Long Beach this year. 

The Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK is the longest standing society in the world dedicated to chemistry, and has become the leading chemistry community in the world.  They have a 175 year history having been formed by Royal Charter in 1848, and they are continuing to be very active to this day.  They have not only a policy, but an ongoing campaign to bring sustainability of composites into the lexicon and the practice of not only the UK and Europe, but worldwide (  They even have a new Guiness World Record for the highest voltage from a fruit battery.  And they have a downloadable report titled “Chemistry-enabled sustainable composites technical report” that is freely available on their website above.  This report has all of the elements of composites sustainability that I have been talking about over the last few months – the Circular Economy, Waste hierarchy and use, and Decarbonization (spelled with an “s” because it’s from the UK).  They even highlight six sustainability trends: low carbon feedstocks, manufacturing efficiency, increasing composite life, reuse and repair, chemical recycling techniques, and inherently recyclable composite materials. 

Also, in the UK there is an upcoming conference put on by the UK Composites Trade Association that they are calling Recomp 2024.  It is being held in late November at the University of Warwick.  This is apparently an annual event that has been expanded to two days this year because of the importance of the topic and the interest within the industry to decarbonize and become more sustainable.  And they are focused as an Association on the industrial side of composites rather than the academic, which is where the application of the new research and development is taking place. 

In the US, the American Composites Manufacturing Association held a conference focused on sustainability in early June of this year.  They called it “Composites Sustainability Today: Preparing your Business for the Future.”  The conference covered changes in raw materials to recycled and bio-based precursors; use-phase sustainability which includes life extension efforts as well as repair and reuse efforts; benchmarking against existing sustainability programs to measure progress toward goals; and risk reduction when communicating with stakeholders, customers, and the general public.  This very much follows the roadmaps that others, including myself, have advocated.  And it appears that the lessons are taking hold both here in the US and in Europe. 

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 – – 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.  And, again, my apologies for being off the grid for as long as I have been.  Life has settled down for us here in San Diego and I’m back in the saddle again. 

I also wanted everyone to know that I am working on my second book.  This one is about what I have been writing in these newsletters for the last 6 months or so – sustainability of composites and a path to the future that does not include using fossil fuels for either the raw materials or the process energy to make composites.  Stay tuned to this space and I will let everyone know about my progress as I write this one.  I’m about three chapters into it at this point and I know what I want to write.  And now that life has settled down a bit I will have time to devote to just writing. 

Finally, I still need to plug my first 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:  And as usual, here’s a picture of the book, for those of you just tuning in. 


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