Sunday, August 14, 2022

Project to explore blended fibres’ potential

New Zealand Natural Fibres (NZNF) is ramping up research as it looks to develop blended wool and hemp fibres for use in soft flooring and outdoor activewear.

NZNF chief executive Colin McKenzie says hemp has huge potential to be part of the solution to some of the most crucial environmental challenges.

New Zealand Natural Fibres (NZNF) is ramping up research as it looks to develop blended wool and hemp fibres for use in soft flooring and outdoor activewear.

The $3.34 million five-year research programme is jointly funded by NZNF, contributing $2m, and a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investment of $1.34m through its Sustainable Food and Fibre (SFF) Futures fund 

The research and development programme will explore flooring, food packaging and performance activewear among several other innovations, including the use of hemp fibre in infrastructure works.

NZNF chief executive Colin McKenzie says hemp has huge potential to be part of the solution to some of the most crucial environmental challenges facing the planet today.

“It is pleasing to have government backing,” McKenzie said.  

The funding will be used to both ramp up innovation and to enhance the company’s processing and marketing capability to propel it toward a global leadership position in the industry.

He said NZNF will use the grant to develop its activities across four separate workstreams over the next five years.

This includes sourcing hemp plant genetics and developing new varieties; on-farm production and agronomic development; new product development and innovation market and business development, including identifying and targeting new customers and sales channels.

“We are the only hemp fibre company in NZ that controls its own supply chain end-to-end, from seed to sales and marketing of our proprietary products made from hemp fibre which we have processed at our own facility,” he said. 

“No where else in the world is doing this (research and development) either so this puts us in a unique position to scale up our operations and establish a place at the forefront of hemp fibre innovation globally.”

On the innovation side, NZNF will be developing blended wool and hemp fibres for use in soft flooring and outdoor activewear. 

“We’re also developing and testing non-woven products, including a natural hemp fibre-based material that could replace single-use plastic food packaging, and a hemp fibre replacement for synthetic geotextiles used to stabilise soil in infrastructure works,” he said. 

“We plan to investigate using hemp fibre to produce a natural replacement for carbon composites, packaging and building materials, plus other industrial applications.”

The investment builds on a previous SFF Futures grant of $202,000 to develop sustainable technology and processes to produce fit-for-purpose hemp fibre from harvested stems without the use of chemicals.

“We are very positive about the future of NZ wool and hemp fibre products worldwide,” he said.

“Our latest SFF Futures grant paves the way for the development of an extensive portfolio of new product innovation.”

MPI investment programmes director Steve Penno says the NZNF research programme will focus on hemp plant genetics, including sourcing and developing new varieties, on-farm production and agronomic development.

He said the project aligns well with Fit for a Better World, the Government’s food and fibre sector roadmap guiding NZ’s export-led recovery from covid-19.

“SFF Futures is a key part of our drive to offer transformational opportunities to boost the contribution of the primary sector and lead the way to a more sustainable economy,” Penno said.

“This project aims to do just that by showcasing Kiwi innovation at its best.

“It promises to add considerable value to our hemp fibre industry and potentially to our local and national economies.”

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