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The opening of the first HempWood factory will open new markets for uses of hemp as a crop. (Photo courtesy Christian Bond.)

It’s impossible to not notice a CBD hemp dispensary on every corner these days and as banks, state governments and other agencies sort out the details and logistics of hemp as a crop, a new market for hemp is opening up. The start-up company, Fibonacci LLC, recently opened the first HempWood factory in Murray, Kentucky. Greg Wilson came up with the idea while working at a bamboo factory and in 2010 started to envision how he could turn hemp into an array of products using a similar manufacturing process.

By reversing the algorithm of trees, his company has been able to engineer the natural growth cycle of plant-based materials to transform hemp fibers and proteins into a wood substitute.

Wilson has said the process is so versatile he can turn weed into wood. Wilson and his team have now patented their process for manufacturing the wood substitute and using a soybean-based glue to adhere and mold the fibers together. HempWood is now available for purchase on their website, www.hempwood.com.

John Crye is in charge of direct sales and marketing at the company. He says the advantages of HempWood products are endless. The company will be able to make anything from furniture to home goods to cellphone cases to jewelry, although they will focus primarily on flooring. Crye says HempWood creates an extremely dense wood-like material. Additionally, HempWood is 20% stronger and grows 100 times faster than oak.

“Hemp is a lot like strand-woven bamboo, except it’s less coarse,” he explained. “Bamboo is kind of a rough material and it will kind of chip, which makes it harder to work with. Hemp is much more woody so that gives it advantages over bamboo.”

Moreover, bamboo flooring comes from China and they have lower quality standards than American made products. Crye says HempWood has an elegant appearance because it has its own distinctive wood grain. Some people compare it to hickory wood and HempWood can even be stained.

 

Advantages of hemp

According to Crye, hemp is a dual crop, so farmers will be able to sell the seeds and the fiber. Fibonacci only purchases fiber to use in HempWood, but Crye predicts the sale of seed will develop in parallel with HempWood products. Fibonacci accepts raw, bailed hemp in the range of 6 to 8 feet tall with seeds and floral material removed.

Hemp is also incredibly versatile because it can be grown in a multitude of climates. Crye says that makes it a perfect crop to utilize in their products because it is not hard to find right now.

As the company has just opened the first factory and is still working out the kinks associated with forging a new product and marketing it to consumers, they are only accepting hemp within a 100-mile range of the factory in Murray because of shipping costs. However, Fibonacci plans to open additional factories in the future that will be set up in close proximity to hemp and consumer sources. As of right now, Fibonacci has plans to build at least eight more HempWood factories across the country. They expect the next one to be operational by 2021.

“This year we’ve bought 1,000 tons of industrial hemp fiber and that is about half of what our factory can do at full capacity,” Crye said. “When we put up another facility there will be twice the demand for it.”

Crye says right now they are evaluating different sales markets, but national scale production will not be for awhile. Currently the cost of HempWood is higher than wood, but eventually they will reach economies of scale and be competitive with wood.

“We expect our prices will be competitive with oak by 2021. There are many challenges to being on a new frontier with this new material. We have to adjust to mechanizing and automating hemp and that’s when it will become a lot cheaper for us.”

Along with developing a new market for a crop rising in popularity, Crye says the company hopes to open up new options as far as deforestation.

“If a ship is sinking, what is the first thing you do,” Crye said. “You patch the hole. I think a great way to patch the hole is to stop cutting down as many trees and HempWood is a solution to that.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at lnewlin@hpj.com.

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