San Diego’s leader of cellulose revolution
“To me, there have to be thousands of ‘aha!’ moments to build something this transformative,” says Robert Noble, former CEO of Tucker Sadler Architects and now the founder and CEO of Noble Environmental Technologies, his new sustainable materials company headquartered in Barrio Logan.
Noble knocks on the pressed wood table before us at the Pannikin Coffee & Tea in La Jolla, points to a sweet-gum tree beside us, gestures at the garbage truck about to pick up blue bins of recyclable materials and cardboard up the street, points to the building across Girard Avenue.
“It’s all cellulose,” he says, “or it could be.”
Noble believes there is a coming revolution — “a highly disruptive transformation” — in building materials, including what we will use to create walls, ceilings, floor tiles, furniture, tables, shelving and “low-cost housing systems to shelter the world.” He says so much of everything we take for granted in our built world has been made of plywoods, or of fiberboard pressed together, usually using carcinogenic formaldehyde and now-expensive petroleum-based glues that off-gas dangerously; heavy, stupid and wasteful for the simple reason that it becomes waste, filling our landfills when it could all be recycled. But, he points out, not just recycled, which is already happening with cardboard and paper, but transformed and remade into new patented materials, led by Ecor Global.
Noble believes the cellulose revolution will be as big as the plastics revolution of the 1960s, only instead of a clueless dweeb telling Dustin Hoffman what to do in “The Graduate,” this will be a green, healthy, light and sustainable prompting by an actress like Zooey Deschanel, perhaps.
Hollywood is already a high-dollar niche market for Ecor, as the widespread use of Indonesian plywood has come to be seen as destroying tropical rain forests. The 20th Century Fox comedy series “Raising Hope” built its hotel sets from Ecor products in December, and the “Parenthood” series is next. “The ongoing use of tropical hardwoods in set construction is an environmental tragedy and this experiment provided a cost-efficient alternative to unsustainable forest products,” says “Raising Hope’s” art director John Zachary.
Ecor’s base products are cleverly named: FlatCOR, WavCOR, and HoneyCOR. All are light and strong. An 8-foot wall made of FlatCOR skins over WavCOR (which resembles a nice rippling set of waves) can be lifted by one worker, and a COR chair can be picked up by a child. Entire buildings with built-in insulation could conceivably be put up in hours or days rather than weeks or months. The process, which was developed through an exclusive cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin and in conjunction with Noble’s co-inventor John Hunt, creates a material much denser than cardboard, yet in the pulp (mush) or later stages of the process can be custom formed, and later painted, decorated or coated. Ecor’s office warehouse is part factory, part design innovation center, and Noble even displays a COR ceramic-like art bowl he fashioned in his garage, like the artsy kid tinkerer he once was…