Hemp Fiber Q&A with James Whaley, Sunstrand’s Product Development Engineer

Hemp has been grown and used for thousands of years for hundreds of purposes. As we innovate, we continue to find new modern and exciting ways to utilize the versatile hemp fibers. We briefly sat down with our Product Development Engineer, James Whaley, to discuss hemp fiber and their many applications. 

Q: When we talk about growing industrial hemp for fiber, what kind of crop is this?

James: “Industrial hemp is purpose grown for industrial applications. Hemp is a bast crop and the only parts of the plant we use are the fiber and the hurd (inner woody core). We do not use the flower or seeds for industrial applications. This crop is similar to alfalfa – it’s a specialty forage crop.”

Q: In what industries can hemp fiber be utilized?

James: “Hemp is one of the most versatile materials on Earth. A lot of people want it in clothes, shoes, surfboards, and pens because it’s only just reentering the market and that’s a relatively easy way to introduce it to consumers. It can also be used in cars, wipes, plastic, medical wardrobes, and much more. I think we’ll see more of a shift into these high-volume applications as the material becomes more and more appreciated/accepted.”  

Q: What properties make hemp fiber a good fit for multiple industries?

James: “Hemp fiber has quite a few properties that make it suitable for use in a wide range of industries. The absorbent industry is very interested in hemp because of its high sorbent properties. The plastics industry is also very interested because of the tensile strength and stiffness of the hemp fibers. They are mostly interested in using fiber for compounding in plastics (as an additive), but we’ve also had people approach us with interest in using our core as a filler.  

Let’s see… I mentioned that people have been interested in using it for apparel, right? Of course, there’s the sustainability appeal of the hemp that makes it such an interesting addition to any clothing, backpacks, and shoes. But there are also UV resistant properties in hemp, making it a great addition for hats and shirts. Hemp fiber has a high tensile strength compared to other bast fibers, as well. This helps make clothing more durable, a Carhartt comparison comes to mind, but hemp can be used in all kinds of durable applications. Door panels for cars are another example, surfboards, field hockey sticks, and so on.  

Pulping is another one we have found to be very popular recently. I think it’s because cultures have been using hemp in pulping for hundreds of years and the growing interest in preventing deforestation is also giving it an added boost. I think it’s also a good substitute for softwood pulp. Honestly, pulping is a little more in Natalie’s field. I just know she’s been really busy recently with pulping needs.”  

Q: Does hemp fiber come in one size, or are other options available?

James: “Multiple sizing options are available. We provide processing services, allowing us to be flexible to the needs of our customers. This means we provide very short fibers, very long fibers, and a bunch of options in between. We work directly with the customer to see which length makes the most sense for them and their product.”

For More Information…

If you have any questions about hemp fiber for James and the rest of our engineering team, please visit the contact us page and submit an inquiry. If you have any sustainable material topics that you want to learn about, visit our Facebook page and let us know what they are!