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Episode 37 – Building Material Innovations – Interview with Lingrove

Discover how you can green your life by building a knowledgebase of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. This is Build Green Live Green.
In this episode, we will talk about an innovative company called Lingrove. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton from CaraGreen and Joe and Elaine from Lingrove.

JESSICA: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green, CaraGreen’s podcast on the latest and greatest in the sustainable materials market. Today we are here with Elaine and Joe from Lingrove, which is a very progressive company in San Francisco that's incorporating sustainable fibers into different technology to replace some of the mainstream fiberglass and maybe carbon fiber products that we see today. So we're going to talk to them a little bit about their materials and they can give you a little bit better description than I just did there. But Joe and Elaine, welcome. 

ELAINE: Hi there.

JOE: Hey, we're really excited to be here.

JESSICA: Can you tell us a little bit about what your roles are at Lingrove and, you know, kind of give us a little bit of background on the technology and some of the products?

JOE: Yeah, so I'm co-founder and CEO and you know, we're in the materials and product space within the built environment. So, I kind of come from a product design and a manufacturing background, personally, I was working in the auto industry, worked at Ferrari, worked at all over design industry, spun out a guitar company, making acoustic guitars out of carbon fiber and then pivoted from that into developing the Ekoa material and spitting out Lingrove for larger applications.

ELAINE: And Elaine here, co-founder, head of biz dev. My background is also in industrial design, but previously I was running million-dollar sales organizations, and so I’m here really to help scale what we make. And I like to say Lingrove makes wood without trees. We use natural carbon-negative fibers and plant resins to make products for the built environment today. We are focused on the interior applications and we look towards exterior applications as well.

JESSICA: Great. So you guys talk a little bit about the fibers. Can you talk about, when you say carbon negative fibers, which fibers specifically you're referring to and with the plant resins, what sort of format are you kind of marrying these things together and productizing them?

JOE: Yeah, so we're today using linen fibers from the flax plant. And this is a, you know, these are kind of classically used for textiles and have been used by humans for thousands of years. They're really high strength to weight, and so that's one of the great reasons to use linen and flax in general. And we're blending that with a variety of different bio-based resins including PLA and bio-epoxy.

ELAINE: Cellulose acetate. We've qualified bio PE and a few other ones.

JOE: And so we're combining those two different classes of materials, fibers and resins to make a composite. And that's just like carbon fiber, fiberglass, but a lighter and looks like and feels like a natural product like wood.

JESSICA: So would you consider it a veneer, a sheet good, a spray on? I mean, what sort of tangible formats is it available in?

ELAINE: So think of it as a Lego building block. We start with a thin film. Adding a backing would give us a veneer product, adding a substrate, for example, recycled PET foam cores would give us a panel. Today we supply both in rollstock for the veneers and as panels.

JESSICA: Okay, great. So when you introduce a product like this, obviously you had to do a lot of assessment. I assume, Elain, in biz dev, you're looking at “what is the market need.” And I would imagine Joe, sounding like your background in the automotive industry, there must obviously be some intersection between those two things, the auto and the market needs, but can you talk a little bit about that and any additional markets that you guys are initially targeting as you roll the product out?

JOE: Well, you know, since we have what's essentially like aerospace grade fiberglass as far as its performance characteristics with Ekoa, you know, it's the kind of, there's a classic problem of having too many options of things to do, right? You can make anything with it, you can make a plane. And so we've had the benefit of having many years now to experiment and figure out where the need is greatest and where we can make the biggest impact. And it's at that intersection that's most interesting for us, right? So we really, we qualify all of our applications thinking about “is this going to really be able to scale to the point where it actually could make an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and build a huge company,” as we are focused on doing. And so the auto industry is great at scaling, so that gives an amazing modality to achieve sort of high-quality product and the manufacturing kind of approach, lean manufacturing, to scale that product.

JESSICA: Okay. So what I find, you know, from CaraGreen’s standpoint, obviously in the building industry there's different types of customers or categories of customers that tend to be more progressive and embrace sustainability a little bit more, whether it's government, healthcare, schools. I imagine it's a similar thing when you're looking at industry. There are certain industries that are more progressive and embracing sustainability, have more initiatives around it. I know that Google is a big proponent of sustainability and Apple and they're really driving a lot of different technologies. Do you find that there are specific industries that are embracing sustainability in such a way that you're more focused on them?

JOE: Well, you know, both let's say transportation and in you know, commercial, residential built environment are very excited about sustainability and about using materials that are signaling that they are sustainable. So what we say, what we mean by that is that they, you know, they give off the impression that they're natural or ecological as well. And it's not kind of a hidden aspect. So, you know, first and foremost thinking about, you know, our primary vertical, going back to your last question, we see commercial interiors as the most progressive because we can now like link the ecological aspects with health aspects. And so we have this, you know, clean chemistry consideration in everything we do. We're not loading the material with FRs and additives and other red list chemicals. So that brings it home for people and brings it home for your interior designers in such a way that then we can expand on the, well, “it's good for you and it's good for the planet” kind of modality.

JESSICA: Great. Well, we just went to a conference last week that you guys probably should have been at actually in retrospect, or we should have had your material there. It was the Decorative Surfaces Conference and it was eye opening to me. I didn't know that basically a laminate veneer was considered a decorative surface and there were a couple of presentations around wood and formaldehyde and it was basically trying to cast those materials into a less damaging perception. Do you find that your products, given the market that you're up against, I feel like you guys are almost like a paradigm shift compared to these, you know, petroleum veneers that everyone's used to? Do you find that the panel suppliers, are you going after them at all? The people like Columbia Forest or you know anyone or maybe like even a Wilsonart? Is that something that you would think about down the road?

JOE: In some ways we have to recreate this industry, right? And so, you know, kind of, there's this notion of like change from within or sort of revolutionary change. And at this point it feels like more the latter is required. So much of our economy and sort of flow of materials is built on a legacy understanding of, you know, environmental sustainability, user needs. And so when we think about what we're doing and trying to fit it into kind of existing modalities, it's a little bit, it's a little bit difficult because they're, they're really, they're trying to be triple bottom line if you will. And that's, it's a tall order. Whereas, you know, we're sort of starting from the beginning and saying, well, having a hundred percent bio-based veneer to replace laminate is our mandate and everything else flows from that.

JESSICA: Yup. Understood. And I think one of the big pushes that we have at Kara Green, and it's one of the courses that we offer is on biophilic design. And I think that that's this concept of bringing nature into a space. And I think that, I kind of think Lingrove is the perfect instantiation of that because it is, as you said earlier, you can see it and you can feel it and you can tell the story behind that material. So, you know, we've played around with the material ourselves and you know, it's very clearly an organic product. And then when you couple that with the performance characteristics of these other manmade, you know, far less natural items, you know, it's kind of a no brainer on what makes the most sense to bring nature into a space and get those performance characteristics that you're looking for.

ELAINE: Well 100%. And I think one of those advantages to speak to some of those things from those manmade materials, fiberglass and carbon fiber has been traditionally used to lightweight a lot of applications, right. We think about airplanes and cars and I think there's a potential for us to lightweight building materials as well. So something interesting there.

JESSICA: Yeah, I agree. So we actually carry a double insulation product and there's a lot of discussion around you know, how the naturally occurring wool fiber is so much better for an insulating fiber than fiberglass, because fiberglass was not, was not made for that purpose. So we've just gotten into this practice of using what's there to meet a requirement, whether it's price, availability, rather than thinking about using nature to take what it's created over billions of years and make better products out of that. And that's really biomimicry and I feel like in a lot of ways that's what you guys have done here.

JOE: We're, you know, fundamentally inspired by old growth wood. That's our gold standard. That's what has kept us kind of on task from a benefits perspective. And so old growth wood has the highest strength to weight ratio, to build on what Elaine was saying and it is also obviously beautiful and highly durable material. And you know, part of our mandate is to keep trees in the ground by offering something that's better, stronger fibers, stronger binders, in this case, plant-based resins, but still give that experience to the end customer. The experience of having a natural surrounding biophilic as you said. But I would definitely emphasize the biomimicry as an influence to what we're doing. And then kind of growing that notion sort of on a macroeconomic level, you know, we would like to see the world transition from extractive materials from and I include timber in that category because of the degradation of land use and transition to using natural fibers around the world, right. Supporting local economies, because nearly every area on earth that's inhabited has the potential to grow various natural fibers. And you know, natural fibers are a solution to drawing down carbon. But on top of that, you know, kind of getting off the high horse, they’re also a solution to delight people because they're instantly relatable. You're in your room or your, you know, the atrium of a building. And today we see wood everywhere and tomorrow I think we can have that same kind of that same warmth that comes from natural materials. But at the same time, you know, preserve the forests from whence these materials come and promote natural fiber cultivation.

JESSICA: So I’ve actually seen and kind of experienced the Lingrove products, but where would our listeners go to either follow you guys on Instagram, go to your website, where's the best way to go, where's the best place for them to go to see what you're doing, but also request samples if they want.

ELAINE: Yeah, so we have our website, www.lingrove.com and we're pretty active on Facebook and LinkedIn as well. So those are good places to stay updated with what we're doing. We'll post what trade shows we'll be at next and I handle samples, so you'll be able to reach me through those platforms.

JESSICA: Okay. And another question I had was actually, it's a California product that I’ve heard a lot about recently. I haven't seen a lot of change over time to MDF or plywood in general, but recently I have seen this rice board that's come out from Columbia forest products. I'm not sure if you guys are familiar with that, but I would be interested to see if that's a potential substrate for what you guys are doing.

JOE: Yeah, so absolutely. We've tested similar products and our material, one of the things to think about when you talk about composites, right, is thinking about it in terms of the entire stack of materials, right. We have a veneer product of course that we've been talking about today. And when you take that veneer and you combine it with a substrate like rice board or other materials like recycled plastics, even agricultural waste of various kinds in addition to rice, you can make something that's very light and very strong and that can be a sandwich panel. It can be a substrate as you said. So just like, you know, a surface on a table or a wall. And at the end of the day we're able to elevate some of these materials into designer level material, which is really important for adoption. And we're definitely excited about other folks that are developing solutions. Some already exist, you know, cork would be an example, and some are emergent and it's really hard for folks like, you know, the straw board folks to compete with OSB and MDF and these really enough inexpensive, highly scaled materials. And so we feel like we're great partners to be able to make that whole stack of product into something worth more for the end customer and therefore, you know, of more value. 

JESSICA: Well that's great. I'm really excited about what you guys are doing. I like that you're looking at beyond, I mean the flax fiber. I think you guys are at kind of your flagship product and it looks like and sounds like, you know, you're continuing to add to that and will do. So appreciate you guys getting on the call with us today and wish you guys all the best at Lingrove. And again, if you just want to give another shout out to your Instagram and Facebook page, that would be great.

ELAINE: Yeah, I think, I guess I’ll spell it out for people. It's Lingrove. And you find us on Facebook as well as LinkedIn. We do a lot of LinkedIn posting and JESSICA don't hesitate to invite us to trade shows if you think we should be there.

JESSCA: Absolutely. Well, we'll be at Greenbuild next year in San Diego again. We'd love to have your products in our booth there, so we will definitely be in touch about that. 

JOE: Great. Thanks for having us. 

ELAINE: Have a great day, guys. 

JESSICA: Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Elaine. This is Build Green Live Green. Thank you.

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