Kenaf: A living material for construction

Kenaf: A living material for construction


Our most recent development on material innovation moves towards living materials, in order to transcend the common environmental issue: Contamination. In a previous article, we learned that there are plants and living organisms that can be used for building construction and industrial design, without affecting the environment and providing biodegradable solutions as a measure of clean environment with a closed cycle life.

Insulation material

Recent scientific developments have discovered another plant similar to Jute with similar performances. The plant is called  Kenaf, or Hibiscus cannabinus. Due to its similarities to Jute and bamboo, Kenaf is a fibrous plant that can be used for producing paper, oils and as an aggregate or substitute for Hemp on construction materials or bio-concretes. The elongation and strength of this fibrous plant, can be a direct and sustainable substitute for glass fibers.

The studies developed by a team lead by Nandika D’Souza, a professor at University of North Texas, College of Engineering, with funds from the National Science Foundation, have shown great results on providing up to 20% of energy savings. The extraction requires a low-cost process that reduces energy consumption and at the same time reduces carbon footprint.

Companies such as Kengro (a company dedicated to bio-remediation of oil spills and other necessities) and Rubberlite (providers of foam and rubber), made this product possible by providing the materials to make these tests successful and sustainable. Kengro grew Kenaf  in order to increase the size of the project and become the covering material for the insulation panel. Rubberlite, provided a recycled rubber structural foam for the insulation material. This ends up being a carbon- negative product, made with sustainable materials.

Wood-Plastic Composites (WPC)

On another research provided by Universiti Technologi Mara, have also practiced with the use of this Hibiscus plant to understand its potential use for wood-plastic composite material. The process requires about 65% of the stem of the plant, then using it in powder form as filling material. This allows manufacturers to replace sawdust and plastics from the composite.

Both of these uses represent an advancement on by-products and the use of living materials. People living in the tropics like us, have a generous amount of sources to study. Whoever is interested on plants or that have the expertise on the topic, take this reading as an encouragement to follow a research on our biodiversity, because with the help of creators, designers and manufacturers, a sustainable product might come along!

Sources: news. information about Kenaf

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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.