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Clean Foam Composites

Málama’s foams are made with polyols that are derived from domestically grown plant oils like soy and castor.

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David Saltman, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Málama Composites (malamacomposites.com)*, grew up in southern California. He became a surfer. And because he appreciated the ocean and the outdoors, he became a board member and executive director of the Surfrider Foundation (surfrider.org), which is dedicated to protecting the oceans and beaches of the world. He became a father. And he realized the importance of the environment, and not just from a recreational point of view. He decided that it was necessary to go beyond just protecting the environment to proactively producing products that wouldn’t harm it. Before founding Málama in 2009, he was a founder of FlexForm Technologies (flexformtech.com), a bio-composites company that produces natural fiber reinforced plastics for applications including vehicle interiors.

San Diego, CA-based Málama is dedicated to providing a green alternative to foams that are traditionally made using petroleum-derived chemicals. (Saltman’s partner, Ned McMahon, had worked for a while making surfboards—which consist of a foam core and resin coating—so both men are well familiar with foams). They’ve developed a formula for the foams, built a manufacturing operation, and are now ramping up production of AinaCore foam products. Saltman says the material has a number of applications, ranging from consumer products to furniture and fixtures. And Málama is just getting its start in the auto industry. He says that the foams are ideal for door panel, instrument panel, headliner, and bumper applications.

Málama’s foams are made with polyols that are derived from domestically grown plant oils like soy and castor (jatropa and algae-based oils may be used in the future). He says the benefits of using natural oil polyols include a safe production environment with zero emissions and end-products that are biodegradable and recyclable. Additionally, the company uses water as opposed to pentane or CFCs as the blowing agent to create the foams’ cells during production. The foams have no residual volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Saltman says the bio-based materials don’t sacrifice resiliency: “If you’re using composite foam structures in a door panel, they take side impact extremely well. They also serve as both a heat and sound insulator and perform well in terms of vibration.”

Málama produces 4-ft x 8-ft AinaCore panels ranging in thickness from ½ in. to 8 in. They are available in 2.5- and 5-lb/ft3 densities. The panels can be cut, fastened, glued, and finished using traditional manufacturing techniques.

Saltman says those techniques will be put to use when there is a switch from steel to composite body structures to further reduce the weight of cars. “Today only about $2.8-billion worth of composites are sold into the auto industry. This means composites are only representing about 4% of the materials in a car. That’s a tiny percentage compared to the dramatic growth that we could see in the next five to 10 years.”

How does he see Málama’s role going forward? “We look at working in partnership with the OEMs and the Tier I suppliers. Our intention is never to be a parts manufacturer. We would like to see our bio-based composites be a component of innovation.”—BC

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* Málama? It is Hawaiian for “to care for and protect.”

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