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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

9FIBER: The Invisible Industry Innovation For A Cleaner World

9FIBER is working towards reducing the dependency on petrol-based products and exploiting virgin forests by providing hemp-based, organic materials for end products.

It’s hard to explain or visualize how an end product of discarded hemp is recycled. 

Over 300 million people in the U.S. interact with products made with virgin forest wood pulp and petroleum-based additives multiple times a day. These additives are used in many processes, including stabilizers, thickeners and filler. Most people are entirely unaware of the additives in their products and have little idea as to why they are needed. Currently, U.S. labels do not require products to list all ingredients or additives in volume.

For some, it’s not a big problem. But for the hundreds of millions of people who want to know what they’re eating, wearing or sitting on, 9FIBER is adding a layer of transparency to the U.S. market that doesn’t currently exist.

What’s more difficult to understand is why these additives are even necessary. This may be hard to digest, but the fact of the matter is that we are consuming additives such as thickeners found in ice cream or whipped toppings or preservatives that absorb moisture in shredded cheese.

However, this invisible industry is worth explaining.

There has been a great deal of interest in hemp as a renewable source of fiber. But conventional processing uses toxic chemicals and results in a lot of waste. What if hemp could be sustainably processed, using the entire plant and reducing waste materials post-processing — AND could help save trees? Sound too good to be true? 9FIBER doesn’t think so!

Why is hemp such an important product?

According to 9FIBER, hemp is one of the strongest and most durable of all natural textile fibers. Products made from hemp have been shown to outlast other products by many years. Hemp is extremely strong and holds its shape incredibly well, stretching less than any other natural fiber.

As a fabric, hemp provides all the warmth and softness of a natural textile but with a superior durability found in a few other materials. Textiles made from hemp are extremely versatile and can be used for countless types of apparel, accessories and shoes, ranging from retail to boutique quality.

Hemp’s long bast fibers are ideal for pulping into high-quality pulp. Because of their tensile strength, hemp fibers are an excellent material for high-end specialized paper products such as tea bags, currency paper and specialty filters.

Hemp fibers can also be blended with other pulp fibers such as wheat straw or flax or even recycled wood to increase paper performance, strength and recyclability.

By manufacturing plastics from renewable, non-toxic, biodegradable hemp, cellulose industries not only reduce their carbon footprint but also help ease the burden on our nation’s landfills – many of which are operating at or near full capacity. 

Green Living Magazine spoke with Adin Alai, the CEO and founder of 9FIBER, Inc., a U.S.-based agro-tech company that uses proprietary technology to eliminate toxic chemicals and inefficiencies in the hemp industry. Through innovations in cellulose and fiber derivative processing, 9FIBER technology drives circular economies through waste diversion in nine industries: Auto, plastics, paper, composite, semiconductor, non-wovens, medical absorbents, construction and textile industries.

​Alai serves on Recycle Colorado’s Cannabis Sustainability Council, is a member of the Marijuana Industry Group in Colorado and Maryland’s Industrial Hemp Coalition. He was a critical component in passage of SB18-187 in Colorado. Alai is nationally recognized as a leading voice in the industrial hemp sector at economic development forums, the Future Harvest symposium at University of Maryland, the Social Enterprise Conference at the Harvard Business School and state recycling summits.

GL: Explain what 9FIBER is about.

AA: We are a material converter company. We are agro-tech based. We base our conversion process on an eco-friendly, patented chemistry that essentially takes the low-value components of the hemp stalk, which is the fiber and the woody core, which is called the hurd. And we decontaminate them, and de-gum them and prepare them for applications in products across nine market sectors. 9FIBER is a doorway, to unlock the potential of what industrial hemp can do in these nine major markets that we we want to play in. Some of these markets are viable and are here now, some of them are in research and development. Our goal is to really reintroduce this material as a sustainable material to replace unsustainable stuff, especially replacing timber wherever possible, in order to create more of that sustainable economy. But not just greenwashing, like a real sustainable economy that’s U.S.-based.

GL: How did you get involved in the hemp industry?

AA:  My brother invented the foundation of our chemistry. We started to evolve out of curiosity, and we started to solve a waste problem. He was an independent grower in the cannabis world, in California and in Colorado. And cannabis is cultivated on a weekly basis, whereas hemp is usually annually, or in some climates, bi-annually. So, every week, you’ve got a mountain of trash that you’re dealing with — stock, stems, leaves, so on and so forth. And back in those days, in 2014, everybody would just throw it on the back of the U-Haul and drive out in the middle of the night and dump it in the forest someplace or just burn it. It was like the wild, wild west with that material. He was sick and tired of doing that because it gets to be expensive and arduous. And so, he fell in love with hemp … Hemp has been around forever, and nobody has ever created a textile-grade fiber or fiber of any kind from a marijuana plant. Let me go try and do that.

We now have three patents issued in the U.S. covering all stages of the separation and cleaning and decontaminating process. We started experimenting with hemp versus cannabis. And very shortly thereafter, it became obvious that Colorado was experiencing a landfill crisis because of this marijuana waste, the way the laws are written in every state in the country except for Colorado and Maryland. But in every state in the country, for every pound of marijuana waste you generate, you must mix it 50/50 with either paper, trash, garbage, glass or whatnot, and haul it off to a landfill. So every pound of marijuana waste you create you create two pounds of landfill. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that that’s not sustainable in a booming industry. Urban landfills aren’t designed to handle green matter. 

GL: Let’s talk about cellulose that is found in many things, especially food — what is it exactly?
AA: Totally sounds bizarre. But cellulose is a food filler. The average person has no idea that it’s in everything — packaged foods, breads, doughnuts, cakes, mayonnaise, salad dressings, your kids paint, it’s in the plastic around your TV, in the lining of your couch, in your carpet, it’s there in your air filter. 

I began to learn about all the things that cellulose and timber are in that we don’t even know about. We started to build our mission and vision based off those directives. How can we introduce a sustainable material so that our material interacts with the average person nine times a day?

GL: Tell me about the project you are working on with Fashion For Good.                                    

 AA:  We are in a global agro-waste grant project, a research project with Fashion for Good, a phenomenal organization that targets the fashion industry to help them eliminate waste and create new technologies and new methodologies in order be more sustainable. And this global agro-waste project is great, because there are only six innovators. We’re the only U.S. company working with recycled hemp. The other innovators overseas are working with different aspects of hemp, or banana or something else but we’re the only ones really working with U.S.-based product that’s grown here. It makes us somewhat unique. Adidas Bestseller and Vivobarefoot are the industrial brands behind this research project.

Birla Cellulose is going to take our material, mix it with cotton, do some testing, and from all that, they present the different blends to the apparel brand, the footwear brands, and then they get to decide who gets to go to phase three and engage in a relationship with them. It’s very exciting.

GL: What are you finding in the industry as far as alternatives to cotton?

AA: Everybody’s looking for sustainable alternatives to cotton, because cotton is an incredibly energy-intensive product. And it has a high amount of pesticide use and herbicide use and water use, and you know, these things inherently are not so great. And the water use just is not sustainable. People are looking for alternative things, and it’s amazing what is getting kicked out these days. And there’s different startup companies all over the place that are working on bananas and different types of strange fruits and vegetables you and I have never even heard of and trying to make fiber and fabric out of it. Ultimately, fashion is fickle, and it will come down to whether the consumer is going to accept it or not, what the price point is, and that’s one of hemp’s biggest challenges that it’s not at scale with cotton, doesn’t have the subsidies as cotton, it doesn’t have the infrastructure, the supply chain, any of the testing. There’s an entire big black hole of stuff that needs to happen for hemp to be anywhere near the scale of cotton.

GL: How has all of this changed you?
AA: I’ve taken the red pill — a “Matrix” reference. I can’t unsee what is going on anymore; I can’t unsee what’s in a product anymore; I can’t unsee how I could potentially introduce a material that could make it better or see it, envision it in a way that it could be more sustainable, healthier, different in one way, shape or form. And that’s how it’s changed me. I have a six-year-old and a nephew the same age, and I think about the planet I’m going to leave him. A lot of people are just concerned about money, and what they’re going to leave inheritance-wise to their kids. I’m more interested in making an environmental impact, so that my kid isn’t trying to figure things out in a hot, dry, dusty planet. It energizes me to keep fighting this fight. 


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