Renaissance Fiber: making hemp even more sustainable
your guide to sustainability: we learn from nature
14 november '22
Reading time: 5 minutes
Although hemp fibres are highly sustainable, there is still pollution involved in its production due to chemical processes. Renaissance Fiber, inspired by nature and following the principles of biomimicry, aims at transforming hemp into the most sustainable fiber on Earth.
Words by Rebecca Pollard
Picture by Rick Proctor
Since the textile industry is responsible for 5% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the second-largest polluting industry after fossil fuels, it is important for us to be both aware and proactive when it comes to its production. In this way, eco-friendly materials such as hemp present a great alternative to synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon, that are made using fossil fuels.
The holes in traditional hemp production
Hemp is both an ancient and sustainable material that has been used in textile production from as far back as 2800 BC. We know that hemp fibres are sustainable and restorative for the planet because it is a CO2 negative material, in that it stores more CO2 than it emits. Also, its production requires few pesticides and herbicides, and it releases few toxins into the soil and the wider ecosystem. In fact, it is said to actually improve soil quality. The only problem hemp production presents is the ecological damage it creates in the degumming process.
Degumming, to put it simply, is the process in which the natural glue that exists between the hemp fibres is removed so that the fibres can be used to make clothes. The problem that arises here is the high level of water and chemical use in this process, as well as waste treatment. This necessary process puts significant strain on the environment, which partly undoes the sustainability of hemp production.
Picture from de IONESCU
Renaissance Fiber: an innovative solution
Renaissance Fiber was founded in 2018 by Dr. Long, a postdoctoral researcher of science, who specialises in natural water and air chemistry. His extensive knowledge provided a starting point for Renaissance Fiber’s mission to flourish, enmeshing his passion for chemistry with a need for sustainability within the textile industry. The American, clean-tech manufacturer Renaissance Fiber, reimagines how we manufacture textiles by modelling their degumming process after observing how tidal streams naturally degrade plant fibres.
To put it simply, in a tidal stream degradation process, bacteria and fungi that specialise in decomposition break down the natural glue between the fibres. Renaissance Fiber then copied this process and applied it to their own degumming process.
In addition, this method uses far less energy than traditional hemp processing and creates hemp fibre that is more affordable and higher quality than other fibre types. Also, this process isolates carbon emissions, which can be returned to the ocean as a natural carbon sink.
Picture from Renaissance Fiber
Understanding the benefits of sustainable fiber degumming
Other than the aforementioned positive environmental effect of sustainable fibre degumming, there are many other positives that can be taken from this approach.
- Firstly, this method allows for the use of non-potable, or non-consumable water to be used which significantly decreases water waste.
- The waste produced in this process is inherently natural and can be rendered ecologically invisible.
- This type of fibre degumming is accessible to a wide range of operational scales, meaning both large production facilities and small farms can partake in this process.
- It can be done using standard textile machinery, meaning no extra cost.
- The cost of materials and energy in this process are relatively low.
Some advantages of hemp clothing
Hemp as a fabric is strong and durable. It’s very gentle on the skin and very breathable. It’s easy to dye and is exceptional in hotter climates due to its ability to wick away perspiration. It’s also extremely long lasting, never wearing out or losing its shape, making it a material that can live in your wardrobe forever. In some ways it just gets better with age, this is because it gets softer with every wash. Hemp is also an antimicrobial material, which makes it resistant to bacterial development, eliminating bad smells. Lastly, it is a water-absorbent material, which helps it to retain dye better.