Raw material supply chains provide the foundation to the manufacturing industry. These are the solids and liquids that are used to make all the products you see around you.
These materials are typically sourced from one of two methods:
Mined goods and petroleum-based goods are what we find throughout most manufacturing facilities. This includes all metals and plastics that are used in today’s mass production.
The only bio-based material that we see at any type of scale is wood. Wood is manufactured and sold in the same format everywhere. A 2×4 in California is the same as a 2×4 in Florida. Actually, a 2×4 everywhere is only 1.5×3.5, but that’s beside the point. Because the lumber industry has been standardized, lumber companies that want to sell their products at hardware stores need to be able to manufacture 2×4, 2×6, 2×8, and so on.
This same type of standardization is the key for other bio-based materials to enter into the world of manufacturing.
Executives at manufacturing firms want to be able to leverage green materials. They know that a reliable supply chain of bio-based materials can help them make stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more sustainable products.
The problem that executives have is that there is traditionally no continuity in the end product.
Farming in different regions has different weather, altitude, humidity, and other variables. When you add in a lack of continuity in how these materials are processed, you begin to see a measurable difference in product quality.
This type of volatility will only be acceptable to manufacturers if it is identified and categorized properly. Industry understands there are different qualities of steel, aluminum, wood, plastic, and all the other materials. These materials have been categorized based on their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, these are the factors that drive the cost of the materials.
So, if manufacturers are going to switch to bio-based materials, they need to focus on one thing: bio continuity.
Bio continuity is the ability to create the same bio-based raw materials time and time again with 100% certainty.
We are creating bio continuity in our materials by focusing on something called morphology. Morphology is a branch of biology that deals with the form of living organisms, and with relationships between their structures. It’s the morphology of the bio-based materials that determine their ultimate utility across manufacturing.
As we start to standardize the format of bio-based materials, we are focused on 3 main variables:
If these 3 variables are properly controlled, then manufacturers can ensure that their bio-based raw materials can perform up to expectations every time.
Every manufacturer needs to understand the size of the materials they currently use, and the optimal size of the bio-based materials they’re looking to adopt. It is common knowledge that the size of a bio-based material determines its tensile strength and modulus strength. The format of the material is what will determine the weight and cost reduction in each product. A material that is too big or too small creates a bottleneck in industry-standard manufacturing practices.
When bio-based materials are mixed with other types of materials, there can be a problem with moisture content. Something farmed in Michigan might have 20% moisture, but that same crop in Montana might only have 5% moisture content. It is crucial that all bio-based materials have under 5% moisture content before they are mixed with other materials. If there is more than 5% moisture content, then there can be adverse effects to the compounded material or end product. Without the ability to remove moisture, bio-based supply chains are dependent on the perfect amount of rain. The long-term solution is to find the proper equipment that can systematically remove moisture content, rather than relying solely on consistent weather patterns.
Traditional milling equipment creates fibers and hurds that have frayed edges. These frayed edges are created because of friction that creates heat. This heat will sear the edge of the fibers and hurds. Ultimately, this destroys the structural integrity of the material and can reduce or eliminate the performance benefits found in some bio-based materials. Equipment that can create the highest surface areas allows bio-based raw materials to better blend with anything. High surface area is one of the keys that chemists and mechanical engineers are looking for when assessing the long-term capabilities of raw materials. This will improve the ability for a bio-based material to bond with any polymer.
Now that you’re familiarized with some of the variables that can affect bio-based materials, it’s time to choose a material.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, which bio-based material is best?
Well, I’m glad you’ve asked.
The Heartland team has been doing research for over two years studying different bio-based materials, their use cases, and their capability for creating a reliable supply chain. After looking at half a dozen or more types of natural fibers, the Heartland team decided that industrial hemp was the best market opportunity. It turns out, hemp is stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more sustainable than just about every other material on the planet.
Hemp as an additive can be mixed with plastics, cement, rubbers, paints, resins, cotton, and other types of materials. The ability for hemp to mix with other materials makes it one of the most versatile plants on the planet.
Just like any other type of chemistry, hemp has to be milled in the right way and mixed in the proper format to make a consistent output every time. This is why our team has laser-focused on bio continuity.
It’s not about the ability to make 100 or 1,000 pounds of a material the same every time.
It’s about the ability to create 100,000,000 pounds of something where every pound looks the same. This type of consistency has never been seen before in bio-based supply chains.
Materials suppliers from across the world will recognize bio continuity as the standard that is required for green materials. Today, the focus is on size, moisture content, and surface area.
In 5-10 years, there will be dozens of other variables that become increasingly important to maintain consistency. The Heartland team is already tracking some of these variables and is actively focused on performance characteristics that can be amplified through proper processing and milling technologies.
For the first time ever, bio-based materials have a path out of R&D labs and into mainstream products. Bio continuity is the golden ticket that the manufacturing industry has been waiting for. The partner that they need is a team focused on building a reliable supply chain of bio-based materials.
Join us as we help manufacturers across industries build a better world out of hemp.
— Heartland Team