A decade ago when Hybrid Plastics announced it was relocating from California to Hattiesburg, the company proved it was not afraid to go its own way. Several national media outlets reported the move would be Hybrid’s demise.
However, Hybrid quickly silenced the critics, finding a wide, global market for its solid polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane molecules while dipping into the talent offered through the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, also in Hattiesburg.
Now, Hybrid is in the process of a major expansion of its 35,000-square-foot plant to accommodate yet another pioneering, in-house developed product — a liquid form of POSS that officials believe will open up yet more new markets.
“When we built our first facility in 2009, we did not have liquid POSS available,” said Dr. Joe Lichtenhan, president of Hybrid Plastics. “We have since introduced this new product line of POSS, and it has been well received by several industries like personal care, coatings, paints and oil and gas.”
POSS is a chemical that bridges the gap between ceramic and organic materials to form a singular molecular composition. POSS comes in a variety of forms — powder, polymer pellets and now liquid.
Lichtenhan said the liquid POSS offers advantages over the solid forms. It is easier to handle and mixes well with other chemicals without having to be heated, cutting time as well as energy and production costs.
While the company is a pioneer, it has taken its time developing and market testing liquid POSS. A Hybrid technology team perfected the liquid form in 2011 and believed it a winner. Still, Hybrid let the market decide by including the new liquid POSS product in its catalogue. It found takers immediately, and Lichtenhan and his staff were ready to pull the trigger on ramping up liquid POSS production.
The expansion has been executed in three phases. The first two phases — design/engineering and acquisition of equipment — are complete. The final construction phase is underway, and Hybrid hopes to have the new line up and running this November.
The expansion will increase five-fold Hybrid’s current capacity to produce liquid POSS. (The company will continue to produce its other solid POSS products.)
Company officials did not give the exact cost of the project, calling it a “multi-million-dollar capital investment.” The company expects to add 10 new jobs, bringing the total payroll to 30 workers.
It represents another chapter in a notable history for Hybrid. In the early 1990s, a scientific team under the direction of Lichtenhan and housed at Edwards Air Force Base in California invented POSS, the first new class of chemical feedstocks to be developed in 50 years. In 1998, the team spun this POSS technology out of the Air Force Research Laboratory and founded Hybrid Plastics, carrying it from a small research and development firm to full-blown manufacturer.
In 2004, Hybrid made headlines when it moved to Hattiesburg. Many of those headlines questioned, sometimes harshly, the decision to come to Mississippi.
“We took a little risk and a lot of flack,” Lichentan remembered. “(Newspapers) wrote we were moving to the boondocks, and that we would never be heard from again. It was a bunch of hot air.” He added that Hybrid used Mississippi-based firms to execute the expansion. “There are some really great engineering, design and installation people in Mississippi.”
He added that the relocation put Hybrid next door to the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, one of only three accredited higher education programs focused on polymers and a ready source of new talent for the company.
The headlines since then have been overwhelmingly positive. For instance, in 2011 it made the news when its POSS was used to enable the world’s first synthetic organ transplant in Sweden. And, just last year R&D Magazine named Hybrid as a winner of its prestigious R&D 100 Award.
Today, Hybrid Plastics is unique among nanotechnology companies because it actually manufactures its nano-products on a multi-ton scale, and nearly half of Hybrid’s sale come from overseas customers.
For more on Hybrid Plastics, visit www.hybridplastics.com.