This story first appeared in print in the April/May issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
A Rossland-based company wants to replace traditional petroleum-based plastics with a biodegradable version made from wood chips, and they say Revelstoke is the perfect fit when it comes to practical applications of its innovative technology.
Advanced BioCarbon 3D uses lignin, a complex molecule found in trees and other plants, to create high performance products using 3D printer filament made from a wood-based biodegradable ‘plastic.’ Brent Anhel, ABC 3D chief marketing officer, says the result is high performance products that satisfy the requirements of high performance industries like tooling and manufacturing. The difference between ABC 3D and other products, says Anhel, is that theirs is a carbon negative plastic that doesn’t add organic material to petroleum-based plastics.
“Our technology is a precise science and has a consistent product and process,” said Anhel.
The biggest draw for the biodegradable plastic, however, is its low impact on the environment. ABC 3D CEO Darrel Fry explains that the current process of using oil results in a plastic product with no end of life. He says petroleum-based plastics break down, but never go away. Creating a plastic product made entirely from wood means that if that product is no longer of use and is deposited in the ground it could actually break down and biodegrade.
“As it breaks down it supports life, whether on land or water, it breaks down into useful compounds and deposits carbon in the soil,” said Fry. “The biggest opportunity we have to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere is by depositing them back in our soils, that’s what nature does when it grows a plant. We’re just utilizing what nature already does, instead of using it as lumber, we’re using it as plastic.”
The company is also conscientious when it comes to how they acquire the trees necessary to create the biodegradable plastics. Currently ABC 3D uses poplar trees normally left behind by logging companies because they have very little market value. Fry said since poplar trees grow incredibly quickly there are also potential opportunities to grow poplar trees for use in plastic products, while simultaneously solving other environmental issues. This includes planting poplar trees near streams where cows congregate — the trees would help filter toxins from cow manure which can seep into the stream and contaminate the water supply.
Company eyeing up Revelstoke for manufacturing possibilities
Fry says there’s a revolution happening in manufacturing, and says the ability to use its wood-based plastics means cities like Revelstoke can create products on demand. Instead of shipping raw logs to create products, communities can produce those same products right in their own backyards.
“Want to make skis? You have all the materials to make it,” he said.
There’s plenty of opportunity for creating other products too. Need a new muffler on your car? The repair shop can print one up for you, or you can head down to your local 3-D print shop and print one up yourself. The same goes for hundreds of other products made from plastic.
While currently there aren’t any concrete plans in the works to set up a location in Revelstoke, Fry says it’s the community’s excitement around producing other materials that makes it ideal. The company has even had a call from a Revelstoke business interested in the materials. The company would need a location about two acres in size and would employ about 25 people.
“The attitude and economic spirit that’s there in Revelstoke is why we are thinking it would be the ideal solution,” said Fry, noting Revelstoke is a leader when it comes to local manufacturing and creating a green economy. “Revelstoke is a leader in that vision. It’s shown by the fab lab being put in and efforts going into that. It’s that tech that will allow this localized manufacturing to grow and carry on.”