Efforts to move towards a lower-carbon economy through the use of natural fibres has taken a step forward in New Zealand following input from a delegation of European experts.
New Zealand Natural Fibres (NZNF), Carrfields and Hemp New Zealand recently hosted the Future Fibres Conference at the University of Canterbury, where representatives from the natural fibres industry in Europe shared their knowledge and experience with local delegates and companies working in natural fibre research, development and commercialisation.
Craig Carr, chair of NZNF, said the input of European expertise into New Zealand’s efforts to commercialise the use of natural fibres, including hemp and wool, in a greater range of consumer and industrial applications is crucial.
“Many western European countries have permitted commercial hemp farming for fibre and food for some time. This has given them a head start in the global revolution towards natural fibre-based alternatives to synthetic products in a whole range of applications from textiles to building materials,” he says.
“As we strive to build and lead our own emerging natural fibres industry in New Zealand, reaching into established European networks that have been operating for decades enables us to propel our story and businesses forward faster.”
Several European speakers shared their knowledge and experience at the conference in November. They included researchers and academics from universities and research institutes, along with consultants, engineers and other experts representing various well-established corporations at the forefront of natural fibre processing and commercialisation in Europe.
Topics included harvesting and processing of hemp and other fibres, technological applications of hemp fibres, innovations in wool utilisation and global markets for natural fibres and processing technologies, says Mr Carr.
“Having the opportunity to learn from the past experience of leading experts abroad gives us an immensely valuable head start in the natural fibres space as we look to establish the industry in New Zealand. With no pre-established natural fibres supply chain in New Zealand, NZNF is leading the charge and we have identified that strengthening our partnerships with European networks is highly important as we move towards achieving our goals.”
NZNF is currently developing its hemp growing, processing and marketing capability with the assistance of grants from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), as it aims to take a global leadership position in the development of industrial and consumer products made from hemp fibre and wool.
Colin McKenzie, CEO of NZNF, says the company is using the MPI funding to develop various innovations in hemp plant genetics, on-farm production and agronomic development, product development and identifying & developing new markets and customers.
“We are the only natural fibre company in New Zealand which controls its own supply chain end-to-end, from seed to sales & marketing of our proprietary products made from hemp fibre and wool which we have processed at our own facilities. This puts us in a unique position to scale up our operations and establish a place at the forefront of natural fibre innovation globally.”
Among the possible product applications NZNF is exploring are hemp fibre and wool yarn blends for use in soft flooring and performance outdoor activewear. Non-woven products are also being developed and tested, including a hemp fibre replacement for synthetic geotextiles used to stabilise soil in infrastructure works.
NZNF is also well advanced in prototyping and trialing hemp fibre-based bio-composites, along with commercial ‘hempcrete’ building products for carbon-conscious housing construction.