KENAF - THE NEW PAPER
Since paper first appeared on our planetary scene in 3500 BC in
the form of papyrus, it was a boon to written communications right up
to the 15th Century. Then when Gutenburg developed his printing press
(unbeknown to the West, Koreans had developed a form of moveable type
50 years earlier) the paper explosion really took off. Today paper
is everywhere. Its use has even grown in the early years of the
computer age. But for how long?
Forhan 100 years now Canada has provided a good living for
many of its citizens from the wealth produced by paper made from
trees grown in our forests. Today pulp mills are working
increasingly longer shifts, the price of pulp is rising, and labor
unions are demanding ever increasing salaries. Now technology offers
a new threat.
The name is kenaf (pronounced ka-naf). It's a tropical Asiatic
plant of the hibiscus family. It appears similar to sugar cane or
bamboo, grows in the same climates and can be cultivated with many of
the same growing techniques and equipment as cane or bamboo. It
could, along with the now genetically-altered loblolly pine, formerly
known as "the weed of the forest", provide devastating competition to
present sources of high-priced Canadian pulp.
How? Well it takes from seven to 40 years or longer for most
trees to reach sufficiently useable size for pulp. Just making paper
requires vast amounts of water and energy and roughly, 10 percent of
the wood cut is wasted.
Paper also is rapidly depleting the numbers of oxygen-providing
trees in our country. Our pulp-making process uses acid or alkali,
depending on the class of pulp desired, to break down the fibres.
That material pollutes our rivers and streams causing wide-ranging
Our trees usually number about 100 to the acre. Loblolly pine is
now growing in sandy, southern states soil at 250 trees to the acre.
With the loblolly pine, enzymes instead of sulfites break down the
fibres. After the process is completed that water goes back into the
streams too -- but it is totally biodegradeable!
Kenaf is another magnitude ahead of this.
Kenaf can produce 300 to 500 percent more pulp per acre, per year
than trees -- at half the cost. In four to five months it becomes
high-quality newsprint paper. Such paper takes longer to fade,
requires less ink and provides higher contrast. Waste in kenaf
production is double that of normal trees but the total cost of the
waste is minimal because kenaf is so cheap to produce.
Lack of advanced harvesting equipment to do the job economically
has, in the past, prevented quantity harvesting.
This hurdle was overcome last year with the successful development
of a new kenaf harvester.
Look for a new kenaf plant to appear shortly near McAllen, Texas.
It will be built by Kenaf International and is scheduled to produce
230,000 metric tons of newsprint per year. That alone would be one
percent of the total U.S. paper production.
Additional production is planned in another kenaf newsprint plant
to be built by the French Institute de Recherche in France. Even a
Canadian forest product company is getting into the act.
Kenaf right now is being used as paper stock for paper plants in
Newsprint isn't the only thing you can make from kenaf. It also
makes good carpet backing and molded auto parts. It only grows in
warm, tropical and semi-tropical lands. Pity.
Kenaf International, 3651 Pegasus Drive,
Bakersfield, Ca 93308.
Phone: (805) 393-2550.
Fax: (805) 393-6435.
Canadian Pacific Forest Products Ltd.,
1155 Metcalfe St., Montreal, Que. H3B 2X1.
Phone: (514) 878-4811.
Fax: (514) 878-4850.
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