With an educational background in vinyl siding and wood flooring, Fibonacci owner Greg Wilson has developed HempWood, an American-produced wood material made from a fast-growing agricultural product. Hemp has long been acclaimed for its versatility, but regulations in the United States have historically hampered research and development on the material. Now, hemp may be the material surrounding you inside your home.
Replacing wood with other natural materials
The company’s name is Fibonacci, although it’s now mostly known as HempWood with a focus on its primary product. No trees were harmed in the making of HempWood, since it is made of all-natural, U.S.-grown hemp, and the uses are just beginning to take shape.
In the grand scheme of things, HempWood sees the opportunity to sit alongside the major players in the wood industry. Its current products include flooring, furniture, countertops and accent walls. Basically anything for indoor use made out of hardwoods, tropical woods, cork or other agricultural products, such as bamboo and eucalyptus, can be made using HempWood instead.
Wilson originally worked in China with another plant-to-product material, bamboo. While great for many things, bamboo lacked strength as a commercial product. Wilson was part of a team that unlocked a process that turned bamboo into a more durable product. Later, he used a similar process in working with strand wood eucalyptus. As hemp availability and an interest in the possibilities for the material grew, Wilson moved back to the U.S. and opened shop in Kentucky to use his prior experiences in the advancement of hemp development.
The environmental impact of hemp
Even with Wilson’s prior dealings with similarly behaving materials, hemp has presented some unique challenges. Plus, launching a business in 2020 was no easy feat. Wilson told Cool Hunting in a recent interview, “It’s all based off this one algorithm that allows you to transform a plant fiber into a wood composite,” he explained. “You’ve got to modify it a little bit for the different fiber coming in, but for hemp we’ve also had to duck and weave around government regulation, COVID, wildfires and everything else 2020 has to offer.”
Wilson and his team were already aware of the sustainability aspects of hemp, like the fact that plants grow quickly and are ready for harvest in only 120 days. Compared to traditional tree-based woods such as oak, hickory and maple that grow for hundreds of years, hemp can provide a renewable option for the wood industry. Plus, as a plant, hemp naturally helps create cleaner air by removing carbon and releasing oxygen.
Hemp’s versatility means every part of the plant is used, leaving no waste behind. While HempWood primarily relies on the bottom part of the plant, the upper parts of thhe plant has other commercial uses, such as chicken feed.
From a sustainability aspect, HempWood offers additional advantages. Harvesting trees damages the natural habitat of plants and animals. For example, removing a single large oak tree takes away a food and housing source. Plus, it eliminates protection for the plants growing underneath it. Forests are a carefully balanced ecosystem, so removing a single component can easily upset the stability within the region. As an agricultural product, hemp doesn’t have that lasting effect.
As a bio-based product, HempWood avoids creating future issues with its natural ability to biodegrade. Even the non-toxic, soy-based adhesive can dissolve back into the soil. “It’s a wood-composite comprised of greater than 80% hemp fiber,” Wilson explained. “We take the whole stalk and put it through a crushing machine which breaks open the cell structure. Then we dunk it into these enormous vats of soy protein, mixed with water and with the organic acid used by the paper towel industry. It’s essentially papier-mâché.”
Fibonacci chose a location within 100 miles of the hemp farms it relies on for materials. This decreases transportation costs and the carbon emissions that result from shipping materials across the country. The company is currently looking into expanding with more facilities to create a web of strategically placed hubs on each coast and around the U.S.
Inside the HempWood facility, the company is committed to a small carbon footprint. In addition to basic steps like using low-consuming LED bulbs throughout the buildings, the company has installed a bio-burner. This device not only vents heat throughout the facility, but it also provides energy savings and comprehensive waste reduction by burning material off-cuts onsite.
The team at HempWood has enjoyed promoting an alternative for the green building community as well as creating a base product that people can get creative with. Customers report making many types of products out of the material, including duck calls, art projects, bowls and picture frames. There is no cap on the number of applications this material can be used for in the building industry and beyond.
Images via HempWood