ALTERNATIVE SOURCES: Ashland's CompositeBuild.com site was developed to alert more builders and architects to the advantages of using lighter-weight, eco-friendlier composite building materials.
Ashland Performance Materials ALTERNATIVE SOURCES: Ashland's CompositeBuild.com site was developed to alert more builders and architects to the advantages of using lighter-weight, eco-friendlier composite building materials.

Recently, Ashland Inc., a leading global specialty chemicals company, took a closer look at the residential and commercial construction sectors to see where it might expand its market penetration. What Ashland found, says Bob Moffit, a product manager with the company's Performance Materials division, which supplies bio-based binders, resins, and adhesives for a raft of building materials, was that most people—even home building companies' supply-chain managers—“aren’t familiar with composites and don’t understand their value proposition.”

Composites are the “glue” that holds together all kinds of construction products, from stone countertops to fiberglass door panels. Ashland’s Performance Materials division also produces a soy-based, formaldehyde-free composite that goes into certain wood products such as cabinetry and flooring.

Composites' value proposition, Moffit explains, includes lower weights, flexibility, and environmental friendliness. Moffit adds that the construction sector—from which his division gets 45% of its annual business—also was mostly deaf to composites’ “life-cycle” advantages over competitive products such as steel and concrete.

“There was a lot of educational gaps that needed to be filled,” he says, especially at a time when new building products using composites are coming out on a regular basis from manufacturers.

To expand the market’s knowledge about composites, Ashland, which is based in Covington, Ky., launched the website CompositeBuild.com. Moffit spearheaded the site's development and describes it as a kind of “clearinghouse” whose goal is to connect manufacturers with architects, engineers, designers, and builders.

The site breaks down residential products into seven house-related categories: utility, kitchen, bath, doors/windows/light panels, exterior architecture, interior architecture, and advanced building systems such as modular construction. There are also subgroups within several categories.

Users can click onto any of these groups, and up pops information about and links to different suppliers. So, for example, the cabinetry subgroup in kitchens (as of Nov. 24) provided details about Columbia Forest Products. In the sun shades subcategory under windows, one found information about the manufacturers Fibergrate and Strongwell.

Ashland has opened CompositeBuild.com to all composite building materials manufacturers, free of charge, because “we felt that if it was just about Ashland, the site would be of limited value to the end user,” Moffit explains. He notes, though, that there is some filtering: "We're focused on fiber-, mineral-, and wood-reinforced composites; extreme metal composites don't really fit."

At any rate, Moffit says, Ashland should benefit from the site’s exposure. “Anytime we have the opportunity to grow the use of composites, we win.” Ashland is now looking into developing a similar site for Europe.

Ashland coincided the introduction of CompositeBuild.com with last week’s GreenBuild 2010 Conference & Expo in Chicago and encountered quite a lot of interest at the show, according to Moffit. “Those folks are, by their nature, more open to new things,” he observes. “They have to be.”

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.