Kebony: carving out the future for sustainable timber

Kebony is regarded as a market leader in the production of tropical hardwood alternatives. Marc Schneider PhD, inventor of its innovative dual modification™ technology, reflects on where it all began.

Although Kebony was founded in 1997, the scientific origins of its technology can be traced back to the work of Canadian scientist Marc Schneider.

Marc, who was awarded a PhD from the College of Forestry at Syracuse University, New York, in 1978, explains the inspiration behind his work.

His scientific research began in technologies offering a sustainable and industrially viable substitute to tropical hardwood building products.

And in the late 1980s, he came across seemingly abandoned work involving the treatment of sustainably sourced softwood species, such as pine, as part of a two-stage wood polymerisation process. He explains, “By impregnating the wood with renewable, furfuryl-based liquids, and heating the wood to solidify the liquids, the properties of the softwood are transformed to replicate the durability, dimensional stability, and aesthetic qualities of tropical hardwoods.”

At first thwarted by historic technical issues, Marc pushed on to success. “The uniqueness of this forgotten technology intrigued me. 

“Producing a wood rich in colour like tropical hardwoods and sourced from renewables, promised to result in a potentially valuable material, but the inner part of each treated wood piece remained unpenetrated. 

“In an attempt to overcome the limited penetration, I developed a catalyst system that was more compatible with the wood. The resulting formulation was reduceable with water, allowing control of the final amount of polymer in the wood. These developments became the basis of what has since become the Kebony technology.”

Over the next decade, various companies were formed to advance the technology beyond pilot stage, with support from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. These early attempts lacked progress because of insufficient investment in R&D, production capabilities and commercialisation. 

The breakthrough came in 1997, when Marc met Simen Gjolsjo, a visiting researcher from the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), who introduced the promising technology to a group of Norwegian wood producers. 

That same year Wood Polymer Technologies AS (WPT) was formed to make use of the technology, and shortly after the new millennium, WPT adopted its present-day name – Kebony.

The company has since grown into a leading global producer of sustainably sourced wood, committed to long-term R&D funding to build on the IP purchased from Marc in 2003. Kebony now has a world-class, in-house R&D department.

The company holds approximately 60 active patents, with products used in over 100 countries, from home renovations to major cultural regeneration schemes, including Battersea Power Station, Tempelhof Aiport in Germany, and Pier 26 at Hudson River Park, New York.

Its first factory opened in Skien, Norway, in 2009, and a second European-based manufacturing facility in Flanders, Belgium, in 2018, doubling the company’s annual production capacity from 20,000 m3 to 40,000 m3. 

And it’s calculated that estimated emissions saving of 143,000 metric tons of CO2 could have been made if Kebony products were used in place of the total US and EU sales output of Ipe hardwood materials in 2022. In the same period, Kebony spent €1.45 million on research and development to further master the quality of its sustainable products.

Marc recognises that collaboration between international scientists and confidence of key investors are the cornerstones of the company’s success.

He adds, “My previous experiences attempting to commercialise this technology had all stalled, mainly because of the impatience of investors.

“They expected high profits quickly from technologies that were at the small pilot plant stage. But that was not possible until sufficient investment was procured to overcome the gap between pilot and commercial stage. For Kebony, probably the most important factor was the loyalty of the investors and decision makers who have continued to support Kebony throughout its existence.”

CEO Tom Paemeleire agrees that long-term vision is essential for success. “Without Marc’s dedication to refining the technology and the reliable faith in investment and improvement, Kebony would not be in its present position leading the revolution for a greener, more sustainable global construction industry. 

“We are immensely proud of the Kebony technology and Marc has been instrumental as a visionary and scientist to create something truly unique which has undoubtedly stood the test of time.”

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