A Louisville-based company that makes fiber and other products out of natural materials has moved into a new facility that will double its operational capacity.
Sunstrand LLC mostly works with hemp, bamboo and the hemp-like plant, kenaf, to produce fibers that are used for thermal and acoustic insulation, as well as animal bedding, building materials, filler material for plastic and more.
The company moved its offices, production line and research and development to a manufacturing facility at 1401 Locust St. in the Irish Hill neighborhood.
The 13-employee company will lease the space, but purchased some of the assets that were left behind by the last tenant, SunOpta, a food additives provider. Company leadership declined to talk about specific purchase prices.
SunOpta left in December 2015, and Sunstrand moved in at the beginning of this year.
The 25,000-square-foot facility is three times the size of the company’s old facility, which was about 8,000 square feet on Fern Valley Road in South Louisville.
The new facility also has a place for the company to dip its hands into something called “wet processing,” which opens up new options for customers and for research and development within Sunstrand.
Sunstrand will hold a grand opening of the facility next week at an invite-only event.
Trey Riddle, Sunstrand CEO, said when the dry processing side of the facility is fully set up in a few weeks, it will have the processing capability of about one ton of fiber per hour. It will be dependent on what they’re producing, which is decided according to customer specifications, but that one ton per hour be the average, he said.
The wet processing plant will probably be able to put out about two tons per hour.
Riddle estimates that piece of the company should be ready in about 16 months.
Sunstrand has been in Louisville for a little more than two years, but started in Montana in 2013. The company moved to Kentucky after the 2014 Farm Bill legalized the commercial production of hemp, but allowed states to retain the right to deny it. Kentucky was the first state to hop on board the hemp train.
Flaherty said that he works with Kentucky farmers to bring in the hemp and kenaf Sunstrand needs to meet the demand. Bamboo is shipped in from outside of Kentucky (which is why it’s more expensive and less prevalent in the business).
Riddle said the Irish Hill expansion is just one of several that he’s planning in the next year or so. He said the company is already setting up a second production facility in Canada and has been eyeing a Colorado location for a third. He hopes to open four in addition to the Louisville location, allowing the Louisville location to always be the hub of research and development.
Sunstrand General Manager and mechanical engineer Patrick Flaherty said that there is no other company in the U.S. processing hemp fibers, which is why they want to expand further. Because commercial hemp production was so recently legalized, it’s a mostly untapped market in the U.S., he explained.
Flaherty said the company is working on creating a type of composite board and particle board for buildings, all made from natural materials.
Article first appeared in Louisville Business First.
by Bridgett Weaver.