TH Interview: Kevin Surace of Serious Materials

Silicon Valley Business Journal

Back in the days, when you wanted a wall you put up wood or metal lath, hired very skilled labour and took a long time to plaster a wall. Then plasterboard lath came along and eliminated the base coat, and soon drywall replaced that, giving us the crappy half-inch thick soundboard that is made of gypsum and embodied energy and passes for a wall today.

Kevin Surace is the CEO of Serious Materials, the maker of serious soundproofing technologies and the soon-to-be-launched EcoRock low-carbon drywall. We spoke to him about his modest ambitions.

Kevin Surace: Our mission is to reduce CO2 output by a billion tons per year, three percent of all the CO2 produced by mankind. We can do it because the built environment is the play. 52% of all CO2 comes from building: 40% for heating and cooling buildings, and 12% for construction. Nobody wants to do anything about it; I was at the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference and all anyone wanted to talk about is cars and fuel, when the biggies are cement, metal, glass and drywall.
In the lab, testing Silicon Valley Business Journal
TH: I know your process for making EcoRock is still secret, but is it as good acoustically and in terms of fire resistance as drywall?

KS: Who says a drywall wall is any good acoustically? But yes, is is as good as regular drywall and passes all of the tests for fire ratings where required. It is also recyclable; we can take it back and reuse the materials to make new board, where most conventional drywall is thrown away, although most landfills are banning the dumping of drywall because of the gypsum.

TH: How much can you turn out in a year, relative to the industry as a whole?

KS: Our target is the LEED building market, which is now about 12% of the non-residential construction market, or about 40 billion square feet. Starting out we can only do 1% of the market, but we have a thousand dealers across the USA (currently selling the Quiet Solution acoustic products) who will be selling it next year.

TH: How are you going to cope with the real estate slump?

It isn't going to kill us, we are going after the LEED commercial market first and then the multi-unit developments, typical residential development is not our market.

TH: Another huge issue for buildings is heat loss through windows; what can you tell us about your new ThermaProof Windows? Are they for the residential market? Is it the glass or the frame that is different?

KS: It is all different, an entirely new world-class technology. We had to look at everything, the glass, the spacers (the usually metal strip you see around the edge of double glazing). We had to develop new framing technology. Commercial windows are now usually aluminum, one of the best thermal conductors we know. We had to develop a new polyurethane frameset that can be used for commercial storefronts and curtainwalls. We are the only people doing full vertical research and development and that is what you have to do to solve this problem.

TH: When and how much better will they be?

They are going through testing now and should be going to market in the fall. They will have R- Values* from R15 to R20. (current windows are about R3 or R4)

TH: Most of the world's construction is overseas, in Asia and the Middle East. Any plans?

The Mideast will be a big market, they could use windows with such a high R value.

More on Serious Materials:
Soundproofing and Climate Change
New Drywall From Serious Materials Saves Serious Energy

*R-value is a measure of the rate of passage of heat through a wall assembly. The higher the number, the better the insulating quality of the wall. A typical wall with 5-1/2 inches of fiberglas will have an R-value of about R20.

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