A new hemp factory has opened that will specialize in producing a sustainably sourced wood substitute. HempWood, operated by a company called Fibonacci LLC, is the brainchild of owner Greg Wilson and his experience working with Chinese bamboo technology. His process purports to mimic the growth algorithm of oak trees to get a durable hemp product by mixing it with a soybean-based glue for a long-lasting building material.
For the moment, the factory is focused on manufacturing flooring materials, but a representative from the company says that in the future, the sky’s the limit on what they’ll be able to make with the substance.
HempWood decided to set up shop in Murray, a Kentucky town that could offer a partnership with Murray State University’s Hutson School of Agriculture. Wilson has told the media that the school not only helped to link him with nearby hemp farmers to ensure a consistent supply of raw materials, but also assisted in the application for his processing license.
The school sees the benefit in having a partner in the state’s growing hemp industry “from internships to future jobs,” Murray State president Bob Jackson said at the plant’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Teaching and learning from an agricultural standpoint, business standpoint, chemistry standpoint, and I could go on and on.”
Company founder Greg Wilson has a background in materials science, and worked for nearly a decade in China in sustainable material factories. He says that when the 2014 US Farm Bill made it legal to use hemp for scientific research, he built a home laboratory and started exploring the possibilities of hemp. He came up with a process that creates a product 20 percent denser than oak.
“Hemp is a lot like strand-woven bamboo, except it’s less coarse,” explained John Crye, who handles direct sales and marketing for HempWood. “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.”
HempWood announced the new factory in March, but officially kicked off operations at the end of August, when the 11,230 square foot plant held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The factory currently employs eight people. Owners intend to double staffing by the end of the year, as they expand facilities to produce more hemp.
The company hopes to open eight more factories in the United States, and are aiming for the second facility to open by 2021. The Murray location cost $5.8 million to construct.
“We’re taking something that grows in six months and we’re able to replicate, or out perform, a tropical hardwood that grows in 200 years,” said Wilson, who added that you can grow a hemp stalk to maturity in six months, as compared to an oak tree’s 60 years of growing before it reaches maturation.
Indeed, the team sees the project as a major step towards prioritizing the environment in the middle of concerns over accelerating deforestation and climate change. “If a ship is sinking, what is the first thing you do?” Crye asked. “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.”