Company Cameo

Kenactiv Innovations: Leaders in Kenaf Natural Fibers

April 17, 2013

Kenactiv Innovations Inc.
7077 E. Marilyn Road, Ste. 140
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
United States

Kenactiv Innovations Inc. was founded in 2008 to develop and commercialize industrial and commercial products from kenaf, a rapidly renewable fiber crop. The company owns and operates a 160,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Snow Hill, N.C., U.S. Kenactiv’s current capacity is 1 million square meters of nonwoven mats/felts per month, plus one million pounds of loose fiber products monthly. “In February 2014, that will increase to 5 million square meters monthly for mats/felts, and 5 million pounds of loose fibers per month,” says chairman, CEO and president, Christopher Galvin.

“Kenaf yields two raw materials and the outer bast fibers have many textile applications, both woven and nonwoven,” says Galvin. “We also manufacture products using the plant’s absorbent inner core.”

Kenactiv Natural Fiber Mats use a proprietary methodology for manufacturing that increases both the consistency of the fiber distribution and the mats’ directional strength. This improves its performance in pre-pregged and emerging high-speed composite processing.

“Kenaf’s higher thermal tolerance for better resin interface, combined with its treatments for high flash, antimicrobial and absorbency and water resistance, put them in high demand,” says Galvin. “We have also commercialized a very high quality loose fiber product that is very white and fine, giving it the visual and tactile appeal that consumers value. This is one of our most popular products because it offers the economics and all of the sustainability benefits of a natural fiber solution with an added luxe factor suitable for upscale retail applications.”

Kenaf and other natural fibers have a long history in woven textiles, but the company says it believes their real value lies in their ability to replace many petroleum-based and less sustainable natural fibers for nonwoven applications in commercial and industrial use. Under new leadership since 2011, Kenactiv has focused its bast fiber programs on meeting the rapidly increasing demand for nonwoven textiles—both loose fiber for laiding and as mats or “felts”. Their primary applications are for lightweight, sustainable plastics and composites, and textiles for home and commercial products such as flooring, furniture and bedding.

“Our products have environmental management applications, as well, such as filtration and agriculture,” says Galvin. “Kenactiv partners with our customers to improve their products and processes by making them lighter, stronger, cleaner, safer, and more economic, and by improving their supply chain stability. An additional advantage we offer is that we have commercialized the entire kenaf plant, which makes our solutions more economic and sustainable.”

Kenactiv’s nonwovens mats are especially well suited to more sustainable composites. The auto industry is very interested in these solutions for components like door panels, trunk liners, and seat backs because they not only improve fuel efficiency—by virtue of their lightweight strength—and lower the carbon footprint of the vehicle, but also because they offer operational and cost benefits. The nonwoven mats and loose fiber solutions have additional applications in automotive for seating and carpeting.

Building and construction is another industry accelerating their migration to natural fiber composite solutions, both for sustainability and because of the economics. “Our products can be used for cabinetry, furniture, flooring and wall and ceiling panels and outdoor applications like decks and fencing,” says Galvin. “For the packaging industry we offer both nonwoven and loose fibers for rigid composites, as well as molded fibers. We also see a developing market for our solutions in healthcare.”

The market for Kenactiv’s existing natural fiber solutions from kenaf is expanding rapidly, as are the development of new technologies and applications. However, managing growth takes discipline and focus. “For Kenactiv, in particular, every day we see new applications and new markets for our products,” says Galvin. “We have a very focused strategic plan for our growth. This means we sometimes have to pass on opportunities that look great. On closer evaluation, though, they don’t align with our strategy, and could, in the end, detract from our ability to execute on it.

“The whole natural fiber market is expanding and kenaf’s particular performance characteristics, economics, and suitability to the highest growth applications, like composites, is the reason it is outpacing the growth of other natural fibers,” says Galvin. “We’re leading because where other promise, we deliver.”

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