Ready, set, shape

Chris Kaffer

Two CU-Boulder alumni explore the market possibilities for shape-shifting plastic. 

Plastic is relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, as well as design friendly and waterproof. But for the most part, once molded its shape is set.

Chris Kaffer and Philip Taynton, co-founders of Mallinda, have an alternative. They started the spinoff—named from components of the words “malleable” and “industries”—after Taynton discovered a new type of plastic while he was a doctoral student in the lab of Wei Zhang, a CU-Boulder associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Most plastics require being heated to between 400 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit to be molded. But when the Mallinda plastic is dipped in water as low as 50 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit, the material—cool enough to handle with one’s hands—can be reshaped in seconds.

“What’s unique is that it can be reshaped by the end user, but once it cools, it goes back to being really durable and hard,” said Kaffer, who graduated from CU-Boulder in 2014 with an MBA. He also holds a doctoral degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley.

The pair was selected for the inaugural cohort of Catalyze CU-Boulder and then won CU-Boulder’s New Venture Challenge in 2014. They also are part of Innosphere, a Fort Collins-based incubator.

Kaffer and Taynton are now in discussions with makers of athletic gear to explore customizable apparel, a highly desirable niche in the market. One idea involves super-strong, ultrathin shinguards that can be sculpted in seconds to the user’s legs. Other concepts that could involve Mallinda plastic and composites are head protection and torso protection for motocross racers and football players.

Taynton, chief technical officer of the company, and Kaffer, chief executive officer—with Zhang serving as an advisory co-founder—are in the process of licensing the plastic, working with CU’s Technology Transfer Office.

They recently received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation and opened a lab at the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus in Aurora, adding a full-time staff member to their team.

The same qualities that make the plastic so versatile—which could improve user value and product life span—could also benefit the environment.

“Our material can not only be molded and remolded at relatively low temperatures, but it’s also intrinsically recyclable,” said Kaffer. “We can grind it down into a powder and then re-form it with pressure and heat.”

To add to the innovation of their plastic, Kaffer and Taynton are compositing it with woven carbon fiber, which is stronger than steel and widely used in aerospace, automotive, wind energy and other industries.

Next up is a Texas-sized competition. The Mallinda team was recently selected to pitch alongside companies from around the world in the South By Southwest Eco Startup Showcase.