PEKIN, Ill. — A Peoria-based upstart company is utilizing a new technology that replaces petroleum-based plastics with cellulosic material such as industrial hemp and other fiber crops that farmers can grow.
“Two-thirds of the tonnage of all textiles in the world is plastic. Polyester is one example. That could be replaced by things like recycled cotton, flax, industrial hemp and all sorts of nice fibers you can grow,” Luke Haverhals, Natural Fiber Welding founder and CEO, said at the industrial hemp farm forum.
Haverhals discovered the new technology as an assistant research professor for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Natural Fibers Welding uses that technology to improve the capabilities of natural fibers, making them comparable with the performance attributes of nylon, polyester and other synthetic textiles made from petroleum.
“Using abundant natural and scrap resources, we can tune fibers to outperform traditional textiles, making this process truly environmentally friendly,” he said.
“It’s been well documented what it means to have too much plastic in too many different applications in the world. One of them that most people don’t understand is if you wash your clothes — there’s a billion wash machines in the world — and that ends up putting a tremendous amount of plastic microfiber into the watersheds to the tune of by 2050 there will be more plastic tonnage in the ocean than fish.”
The company is building a prototype textile mill in Peoria which will be a model for what can happen not only in the Midwest but also provide the equipment to be exported to areas such as Asia that produce the balance of textiles in the world.
“In short, what we’re able to do is take fiber and fuse it together. One of the reasons why plastic is dominating the world is because you can melt it and extrude it and turn it into shapes that you want. We’ve never had the ability to do that with natural materials with natural fiber welding,” he said.
“We have a team of a little more than 20 people that are chemists and chemical engineer and welders who are building automation that enables fiber, fiber crops and things like that to turn into a variety of things.
“We’ve been doing this in partnership with some of the largest manufacturers in the world to show them where the world is headed beyond petroleum and plastics.”
Among Natural Fiber Welding’s partners is Fashion For Good, which partners with Adidas, Tom Hilfiger and other brands.
“We working with those folks, giving them fabrics and working on scale-up plans so that they can start selling you this stuff in the very near future,” Haverhals said.