Better than bamboo: Kenaf
If you don’t know what kenaf is it can be briefly summarized as a tall, fast growing plant (hibiscus cannabinus; related to cotton and hibiscus) that requires less energy and chemicals both in growing and processing. It can be made into paper that is superior to wood pulp and it can be grown in less than ideal fields -like tobacco. Kenaf has also been used in plastics, both to strengthen and to make plastic more biodegradable. But that’s not all, it could be a solution to global warming in that it absorbs more CO2 than any other plant. It is claimed that one acre of kenaf absorbs as much CO2 as 8 acres of pine forest or more CO2 absorption that 2 -3 acres of rain forest. In areas that don’t freeze, kenaf can be grown year round (3 crops). Research from Purdue says that over 20 years, one acre of kenaf can produce ten to twenty times more usable fiber than an acre of pine.
The fabric developed from kenaf is similar to linen but it is still hard to find. [I did find drapes sold by Pottery Barn made of 100% kenaf but they're out of them now.] Research (pdf) shows that kenaf retted with bacteria rather than chemicals, produces the smoothest fabrics -another plus.
Like I said, I’ve been interested in this for a long time. In the mid nineties, I tried to get seeds to plant some but those were tough to find -but not anymore. I have a whole acre and nothing to put on it…although law enforcement might get a little excited if I planted a crop because some varieties look like marijuana. Kenaf is just the greatest stuff, it can be used for so many things. We might have to get a chipper-shredder yet.
Today’s post was brought to you by Kenactiv Innovations, producers of “bio-based textile components and yarns that can help manufacturers and retailers meet consumer demand”. Okay, not really. Kenactive had nothing to do with this. Their PR firm sent me a press release about it. I don’t often get excited by press releases but I saved this one to share with you.
But I digress. Keep kenaf fabric on your radar and you’ll be the coolest kid on the block. It is much much better than bamboo because bamboo is very chemical intensive -it’s rayon. Kenaf is much cleaner and more sustainable. Now we have to find a way to make it cool. What we lack is a substitute for a cute panda bear to sell it to consumers. I vote for chinchilla bunny puff-balls. What those would have to do with an African plant is beyond me. Say, maybe we could show cheetah kittens romping amid a field of kenaf?