Malama Composites Gets USDA’s “Biobased” Product Certification

Addressing the needs of a climate-changing world seems like an important cause, but many cleantech startups that are developing sustainable products face an intractable challenge.

Producing a “green” alternative for an industry already using petroleum-based raw materials usually requires selling a comparable product at a competitive price. But getting those costs down is often problematic, and often means ramping up sales volume.

So getting an official “Certified Biobased Product Label” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) represents a significant step for San Diego’s Malama Composites. The startup, founded in 2009, mixes sustainable green materials like castor oil with methylene-based compounds to make high-quality structural foam that has good insulating qualities and water resistance. While methylene is a petroleum-based product, it is far less harmful than toluene, a standard but toxic ingredient used to make many rigid foams.

David Saltman

David Saltman

The designation means that Malama’s Studio BioFoam and Pacific BioFoam products are now on the federal government’s list of preferred bio-products—and meet mandatory purchasing requirements for federal agencies and contractors under the biopreferred program.

The USDA certification means that independent labs have verified the company’s bio-product claims, and the USDA continues to monitor the company’s claims.

The designation will help Malama build awareness that there are healthier alternatives to petroleum-based foams used as insulation in homes and buildings, appliances, foam shipping containers, and a host of other consumer and industrial uses.

“It has taken us over five years to develop a suite of products that address every segment of the rigid polyurethane foam market, which is a $9.5 billion market in the U.S. and a $30 billion market worldwide,” said David Saltman, Malama’s chairman and CEO.

With only five employees, Saltman said Malama produces two products—Studio BioFoam, in “Stonehenge” slabs, 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet high; and Pacific BioFoam, which uses two ingredients that rapidly expand into a rigid foam when mixed together. The Pacific BioFoam can be sprayed or injected, and is used to insulate the interior hulls of ships, walls of refrigerators, and in other ways.

Malama produces its Studio BioFoam in big, easy-to-carve slabs, which have been used to make stage sets in this summer’s “Jurassic World,” and to make the 14-foot stylized puppets in the 2014 musical, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” at the La Jolla Playhouse. Malama’s Studio BioFoam also is used in museum exhibits, architectural and industrial design modeling, prosthetics and orthotics, and tool and die machining applications.

Malama says its Studio BioFoam is the world’s only bio-based rigid urethane foam to get the USDA certification. It is a zero-emission material that uses vegetable polyols and water as the sole blowing agent, Saltman said, “proof that eco-friendly products can outperform petroleum-based alternatives.”

In a statement from the company, Ron Buckhalt, the USDA BioPreferred Program manager, says, “Biobased products add value to renewable agriculture commodities, create jobs in rural communities and help our nation decrease its reliance on foreign-sourced and non-renewable petroleum.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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