Startups

College Park’s InventWood scored $20M from the Department of Energy

The company developed a process to make wood stronger and lighter than steel for building projects.

Forest for the trees. (Photo by Matthew Montrone via Pexels; Image has been cropped)

This editorial article is a part of Technology of the Future Month 2022 in Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Verizon 5G. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Verizon 5G before publication.

A College Park, Maryland technology company working on eco-friendly materials solutions just caught the eye of none than the Department of Energy (DOE).

InventWood, a seven-person startup developing an alternative building material, was recently named a recipient of a $20 million grant from the DOE. The funds were granted as part of the federal push toward reducing industry-related emissions.

InventWood CEO Josh Cable told Technical.ly that the goal of the company is to be a better alternative to steel. According to him, steel can be expensive, heavy, potentially hazardous and unsustainably produced. InventWood’s product, he said, is 80% lighter than steel and 50% cheaper.

“The 20th century was built with steel and steel is a great material in many ways, but it has a number of shortcomings,” Cable said.

InventWood was founded in 2016 by Liangbing Hu, a professor at the University of Maryland, and Amy Gong, who created the wood technology with Hu. InventWood turns its regular wood into “MettleWood” by chemically treating and pressing pieces of the material, which changes the fiber structure. In the end, it turns out to be a much denser version of the initial piece and reduces its thickness by about 80% while still being biodegradable. Cable called the process “species agnostic,” meaning it can be done to any type of wood, even invasive species. The MettleWood product also has a Class A fire rating thanks to the densification.

Cable thinks the material can, naturally, be used in building sites, as well as in car parts, furniture, wind turbines and more.

“We want to bring nature back into humanity and our lives,” Cable said.

InventWood was one of eight startups from across the country selected to receive $100 million in funding for clean energy technology projects. The funds were allocated to support President Joe Biden’s goal to lower emissions, reduce critical mineral dependence and deploy clean energy. InventWood received $20 million, the largest possible grant.

With the funds, Cable said that InventWood plans to build a pilot manufacturing facility to boost the output of MettleWood (the company also produces known as Insulating Wood and Transparent Wood). He also plans to at least double if not triple company size by the end of next year.

The DOE funding is a huge step for the company, he said, as he hopes it can provide some confidence in the MettleWood product, especially to future investors and customers.

“This grant is going to be transformative for us in that it provides that capital that will allow us to get to the next stage in a way that would have been really difficult to fundraise from investors,” Cable said.

Series: Technology of the Future Month 2022
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