As humans, we love the aesthetically pleasing look of wood. It’s a beautiful material, but our planet is being harmed by the massive rates of deforestation as a result of supplying wood to various industries.
What if we could have a wood-like material without cutting down trees? That’s where Lingrove comes in. Using plant-based fibers and resins, they have created a more eco-friendly solution to fill the demand for wood. The material has a familiar natural grain look, and it’s already been successfully used to make guitars and ukuleles which have professional sound quality. We asked Joe Luttwak, the founder of Blackbird Guitars composite string instruments, a few questions about the history of Lingrove:
How did you become interested in science?
JL: I became interested in science through biology. The majesty and strength of trees was an early interest that extended to understanding the greater context of eco-systems as I got older. I remember being obsessed with smaller creatures like beetles and dragonflies whose exoskeleton are strong and light and later became an inspiration for the structural composite materials we make today.
When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?
JL: Blackbird Guitars spent several years developing biobased composites for musical instrument applications. Working closely with Entropy resins, our efforts resulted in the first line of Ekoa instruments. After achieving exceptional performance and aesthetics, it was clear that many other potential applications existed, so Lingrove was founded in 2014 to help other products benefit from our R&D effort. And as Lingrove expands our product offerings and expertise in sustainable design, we added a PHD candidate from UC Berkeley with an expertise in biomaterials.
How does your technology work?
JL: We combine natural flax fibers with bio-based resins to create a material that looks, feels and sounds like wood—but without any wood. The natural flax fibers are the strongest of all natural fibers, and with our technology they can be made to replicate the contours of many wood grains.
The bio-based resins mean our products are not derived from crude-oil, and are instead made from natural sources. We make a strong, water and mold resistant material that can be molded into any shape while still keeping the beautiful wood grain aesthetics.
What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?
JL: I was already an entrepreneur starting Blackbird Guitars 12 years ago. However, Lingrove is a different type of company, and being at IndieBio has been instrumental in helping me make the transition from my technology and current business to the thinking involved in the mass production of my product Ekoa.
How do you think your success as a company would change the lumber and construction industries?
JL: For generations we have cut down trees to fill our need for materials. But today 91% of quality timber is gone, and industries reliant on this wood are struggling with lesser alternatives. We continue to want what the heirloom quality woods have to offer, but wood is no longer a convenient or ecological answer.
The lumber and construction industries have been slow to change and to wake up to the continual environmental degradation our massive building needs create for the planet. With Ekoa as a new viable material for the construction industry, we would be slowing down deforestation and hence helping to reverse climate change.
Because Ekoa is lightweight, stronger and more moldable than wood while still having the high quality look and feel of wood, we know the industry will be able to increase innovation in design.
What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?
JL: We are about to launch a new application of our material Ekoa which will allow current and new buyers to design completely new forms. We then plan to continue to roll out the mass-production of Ekoa and to steadily lower its price point.