By Eleanor Greene
In 2014, Rey Banatao brought Connora Technologies’ first thermoset polymers, called Recyclamines, to LAUNCH’s Green Chemistry cycle. Recyclamines are a game-changing technology for composite manufacturers and the environment, in that they lower the overall cost of goods sold while making them recyclable.
Banatao, who grew up in California, remembers his parents and grandparents working hard to make sure him and his siblings were in good schools and they had what they needed to succeed there. He says some of his best memories were spending time outdoors, fishing, skiing, camping and going to the beach. “It gave me an appreciation for the environment. Eventually I became a biochemist and my brother a materials science engineer. When we started our first company together, Entropy Resins, and eventually Connora with our CTO, Stefan Pastine, we figured that working on products to serve environmental issues, was worth devoting our time and careers to. Taking our expertise and applying it to that problem, resulted in the idea for making better materials. It’s a good fit for us.”
1. You were involved in Green Chemistry cycle in 2014. What progress have you made on your innovation since LAUNCH?
Connora has advanced the Recyclable Composites innovation from concept to early adopter scale commercialization. Since LAUNCH, we’ve been focused on application in sporting goods and automotive industries. For sporting goods, we have launched the concept into the surfboard industry, getting support from the major brands and small ‘eco’ pioneers to adopt our materials, from Futures Fins, Stretch, Firewire, and Channel Islands, to Earth Technologies and Enjoy Handplanes. In the snowboard industry, we are working with Burton Snowboards, the largest manufacturer and brand in the industry.
Getting companies to adopt our approach was no small feat, but there was eventually unanimous support for our idea, to taking the industry’s surfboard production waste, and turning it into plastic fins made with recycled content. Although the surf application is relatively small in the composites industry, it demonstrates the total cradle to cradle concept: manufacturing waste and end of life waste (broken surfboards), recycling in Connora’s pilot facility, and then working with plastics manufacturers to create injection molded fins that can go back into boards. The nice thing is we get to prove all this domestically, where their boards are made. We’re helping Burton work toward a goal of zero-landfill manufacturing. But instead of fins, our idea is to turn their waste into plastic bindings that can go back onto the board.
We’re in research and development with BMW for pushing recyclable composites into their i3 electric cars. This project was awarded an NSF SBIR Phase I award, and we hope to be getting a Phase II sometime this year. Our goal is to start with concept parts that eventually will make it into production in the coming years.
2. How has Connora Technologies made an impact on the world, or what impact are you excited about it having?
Recyclamine has market potential in industries where millions of pounds of composite waste are generated annually; including electronic printed circuit boards(PCB), wind energy, marine, and sporting goods. Similar to the $60B+ thermoplastic industry today, the creation of a secondary recycled composites market will have cascading stimulus in the recycling industry, by providing a new approach to create value from an untapped waste stream.
In January of 2015, President Obama, with the bipartisan support of congress, announced a partnership between IACMI and the Department of Energy that will revitalize manufacturing. President Obama proposed, “the institute will focus on lowering the overall manufacturing costs of advanced composites by 50%, reducing the energy used to make composites by 75% and increasing the recyclability of composites to over 95% within the next decade.” In partnership with TPI, an IACMI member and one of the largest windmill blade makers in the country, Connora is helping to address recyclability for IACMI and the composites industry. Connora’s Phase II proposal allows us to remain on par with performance and cost of thermosets, while solving the their recyclability issue. If successful, Connora’s Recyclamine technology can strengthen US manufacturing competitiveness with leadership in cutting-edge technologies, prepare America’s workers with jobs in manufacturing, and provide opportunity for co-investment with the private sector.
3. LAUNCH is all about connecting unexpected partners. Have you connected with any partners to get your innovation to where it is today?
Yes, we have a laundry list of partners. But a really nice example on how one collective of partnerships helped launch our proof of concept product, is the story behind the Enjoy Handplanes/ Patagonia / Ecovative (fellow LAUNCH) / and Connora collaboration. The story is best described and documented in this video:
4. What are you looking forward to the most in Connora’s future?
Scaling our products and seeing the recycling life cycle become a reality. If we can do that, we know we’ll have an impact.