By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The start of a new month comes with an important announcement from Knoxville’s 4M Carbon Fiber Corporation.
Rob Klawonn, a well-known executive in the carbon fiber and composites sector, assumes the role of Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Josh Kimmel who has held the position for about a year. Kimmel will continue to serve as the Company’s President and will also sit on the corporation’s board of directors.
The appointment of Klawonn, an executive for more than a decade at Toho Tenax America and President and board member since 2008, is the latest move in a strategic pivot by 4M Carbon Fiber that had originally planned to manufacture equipment to produce carbon fiber using a technology co-developed by RMX Technologies LLC and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). 4M Carbon Fiber has an exclusive license to the process.
“We’re now going to stand up carbon fiber production using our own technology,” Rodney Grubb, Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of 4M Carbon Fiber, told us in a recent interview. “We can produce carbon fiber three times faster than conventional processes, use 75 percent less energy, and make a better fiber.”
Those who know the University of Tennessee alum and long-time project management executive would probably agree that Grubb is always enthusiastic, upbeat and optimistic, but those characteristics were particularly on display during our recent interview with him – the first in about a year and one-half.
“Our goal is to stand up six carbon fiber production lines in the next six years,” he said.
When we last talked extensively with Grubb about 18 months ago for this teknovation.biz article, he was focused on securing funding for a 175-ton oxidation oven. The larger unit would allow RMX Technologies to finalize the design for 1,500-ton ovens, the size needed for widespread commercial deployment of the technology.
The plans at that time called for 4M Carbon Fiber to actually produce the ovens, incorporating the RMX Technologies process, and sell them to carbon fiber manufacturers who would produce the actual material – carbon fiber and oxidized PAN fiber.
What a difference a year or so makes in the life of a technology company.
In 2017, 4M Carbon Fiber completed a reverse merger with Woodland Holdings Corporation that allowed the former to position itself as a public entity, since Woodland regularly filed with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 4M Carbon Fiber also raised a $2.3 million round of funding last fall.
As management met with investment bankers, Grubb says they learned something very important.
“Selling equipment is not as compelling a story as having a technology that changes the world,” he says.
4M Carbon Fiber, which has 75 shareholders, is in the midst of a $10 million bridge funding raise. Those funds will allow the company to build a 250-ton product demonstration line that Grubb says is 10 times the capacity of ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.
“It will allow us to run multiple precursors and recipes for customers,” he explains.
As far as the longer term, Grubb says 4M Carbon Fiber has engaged a local consultant to help it raise additional capital using Regulation A+ of the JOBS Act, officially known as the “Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups Act.” That individual was instrumental in taking the first company public using the Reg A+ provision on the NASDAQ.
If all goes well, Grubb says 4M Carbon Fiber will do its initial public offering later this year or in early 2019.
Meanwhile, RMX Technologies will continue to be an R&D enterprise.
“It’s all about technology development and commercialization,” Grubb says, adding that the oxidation process that 4M Carbon Fiber has licensed is just the first of several atmospheric plasma technologies that RMX Technologies is developing.
As noted in this recent teknovation.biz post, Truman Bonds is now Chief Technology Officer at 4M Carbon Fiber, a critical role as the company builds the lines using the plasma oxidation technology. He also serves as President of RMX Technologies.