The Alternative Fiber Pulp Mill

Better Paper, Cheaper and Cleaner

Earth Pulp and Paper


     Half of all trees harvested are chipped up for the pulp mills. Half of all landfills are composed of paper products. The purpose of the Alternative Fiber Pulp Mill is to begin producing pulp for paper from the whole stalks of hemp, flax, kenaf, and agricultural waste, using no wood products at all, so that the last few trees remaining on our planet may be spared the foolish waste of being converted to landfill.

     There are plenty of alternative sources of cellulose for paper pulp, many of them producing paper of finer grades than is possible by wood pulp alone. The challenge is to put together the right combination of available alternative pulp sources to produce paper of high quality that can be profitably marketed at prices competitive with the established industry. We believe that this is not only possible, but that a whole new and very profitable industry may be realized from applications along the lines of the present project.

     If we can succeed in demonstrating the commercial potential of non-wood paper production, we may safely leave it to market forces to make the chipping up of trees for paper pulp become just another historical folly of the twentieth century.

Alternative (Tree-Free) Fiber Sources

     There are a great variety of possible sources of cellulose for paper pulp, but they fall into two categories:

1. Fiber sources that can be cultivated for the fiber as a primary crop, as in fiber hemp, Cannabis sativa, and kenaf, Hibiscus cannabinum. Both of these are fast growing annuals that produce enormous quantities of high quality bast fiber in a single season. Both plants also have woody stems, or hurds, that may also be processed into pulp of lower quality. Many other plants may merit further research.

2. Fiber sources recycled from agricultural or industrial by-products: everything from wheat straw to sunflower stalks, scraps from the garment industry, or rags and cellulose discards recycled from other sources. These recycled materials are not currently utilized. We are personally familiar with garment manufacturers who pay for the privilege of burying their new, clean, white 100% cotton scraps as landfill! This is incredibly stupid and just not consistent with today’s environmental consciousness or commercial opportunity.

The Hemp Issue:

     Hemp is widely known to be one of the cheapest and best sources of very high quality cellulose for paper making. Until the present century, hemp was the backbone of the paper industry for over two thousand years, and there is significant interest in returning to the industrial potential of hemp all over the world, not only because of the quality, length, and strength of the fiber, but also because of the favorable economics of cultivation. There is twice as much cellulose, ton for ton, as there is in wood chips, and the hemp plant can produce abundant crops of both seed and fiber, with no pesticides and easy cultivation. It has been largely overlooked in some studies of alternative fibers because it has been illegal to grow it in this country for over fifty years. However, times change, and the necessity of developing alternatives to wood pulp, as well as the renewed popularity of hemp textiles have prompted governments all over the world to reconsider their position regarding industrial use of hemp. We are expecting to obtain a permit to cultivate fiber hemp on a small scale here in California for our own hand paper making.

     The varieties which we will cultivate have been specifically developed for high fiber yields and low THC content. Low THC fiber hemp varieties have been cultivated uninterruptedly for thousands of years in China, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and more recently in France, Spain, Holland, Australia, Great Britain, Canada and Germany. Cultivated fiber hemp has practically no THC, the psychoactive ingredient of varieties cultivated for marijuana. We obtained seed of five varieties from the Bast Fiber Research Institute in the Ukraine. They were being held for us in Holland, pending the final approval of our permit, but that was years ago, the seeds are now too old, and we are still waiting for our permit. However, when our permit comes through (as it will in any case as soon as we have profitable pulp mills spinning merrily away up in Canada), there is today no further difficulty about obtaining suitable seed.

     If hemp were cultivated as a seed crop, the remaining stalks would be the ultimate agricultural by-product for the paper mill. Hemp plants are capable of a large production of seed every year. This seed has an unlimited potential for industrial uses, as the oil derived from it is of very high quality. Furthermore, the seed is highly nutritious. It is second only to soybeans in the amount of protein it contains, and it also contains many other valuable components: it is very high in essential fatty acids (80%), and among the lowest in saturated fats (8%). (Fats and Oils: The Complete Guide to Fats and Oils in Health and Nutrition, by Udo Erasmus, Ph.D.) In many circles, hemp seed is the latest health food.

The Pulping Process:

     One of the major problems to consider is the best method of producing pulp from this variety of source material, since equipment designed for wood chips is not easily transferable to alternative fibers. On our trips to the Ukraine, we were introduced to the research being done by Dr. Krotov of the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Kiev: a new design for a machine to produce pulp from whole stalk hemp and other materials that seems to offer many advantages over current methods: higher yields, lower production costs, lower capital costs, less pollution, less energy consumption, less water use, and, of particular importance to the present proposal, adaptability to a wide variety of source material. The process is a closed system that integrates all of the major processes of pulp production in one unit. It recovers and recycles the chemicals used, and even delivers the removed lignins and sugars as market products rather than as part of a toxic sludge. See the New World Pulper for further details.

Three Phases of the Project:

     The first phase of the project is well advanced: at the Evanescent Press in northern Mendocino county, California, we have been making paper by hand for over ten years, utilizing many of the fibers we want to use on a larger scale. We have discovered that some quality of paper may be made from just about anything, and that blends of different fibers often make a paper that is stronger or finer than paper made with a single fiber. We make excellent paper from local weeds (sow thistle, yellow dock, and others). Since 1990, we have been making paper from the stalks of hemp plants grown locally for marijuana production, using both the bast fiber alone and the whole stalks. This original experimental work with fibers will continue by hand at the Evanescent Press location in northern California, which is now operated as a non-profit research and educational project of the Church of the Living Tree. We are expecting to obtain permits to cultivate fiber hemp on a very small scale (3000 square feet) here on our 67 acres.

     We are now engaged in realizing the second phase of the project: setting up a pulp mill based on Dr. Krotov’s design for experimental production of cellulose pulp from all manner of available alternative (tree-free) sources. This new technology appears to offer a great many advantages. It is clear that the future of pulp and paper is with alternative fibers, and the sooner we begin operating an experimental plant, the sooner we will be able to produce better pulp more efficiently and cheaply than current methods. This pilot project will be very small by industry standards, probably producing about 15 tons per day of finished pulp. The first plant will probably be set up in Canada. If it is successful, we will follow it up with the installation of numerous additional units world-wide, as we have accumulated quite a list of locations where the application of this technology will be in demand.

     There are so many variables in terms of the exact composition of the furnish, ratios of included material, and/or modification of a paper machine to produce paper of whatever grade is intended, that considerable research will be required before optimum utilization of the technology is realized. Additionally, it will be possible to utilize some of the lower grades of available cellulose material for the production of additional market products, using only the better materials for production of pulp suitable for paper. We may operate a paper mill ourselves, or work in concert with existing mills.

     The third phase of the project would be a full scale industrial application of all of the methods developed in phases one and two. In order to bring costs down to a level where alternative fiber paper can compete successfully with wood based paper in the long term, it will be necessary to adapt all of the components of the project to the scale of the established industry. This will mean extensive acreage of hemp cultivation, and the construction or renovation of large scale pulping and paper making facilities. If the results of the first two phases of the project are encouraging, we anticipate rapid growth to meet accelerating demands world-wide.

Market Considerations:

     As paper makers, we receive numerous requests for commercial quantities of “hemp paper” or “tree-free” paper, especially from companies who wish to project an environmentally friendly image in their catalog of products or newsletter. While these customers are quite prepared to pay a premium for these papers, it is our expectation that it will be possible to offer alternative fiber papers of superior quality at prices cheaper than wood-based paper, once an initial period of research and development leads to efficient and well capitalized commercial ventures. We are expecting that our “green” paper will receive an enthusiastic reception in the market place.

     One of the advantages of the design of the Krotov pulper is that hemp fiber need not be retted and decorticated; it may simply be chipped up whole and raw, and fed directly into the machine. This not only saves considerable labor and handling cost, but it allows hemp to be cultivated primarily as a seed crop, with all of the remaining biomass turned into pulp, except for the extracted waste material which may be returned to the soil as fertilizer, or separated into additional market products. The uses for hemp seed are extensive, and there is no limit to the amount which could be used both for nutritional and industrial uses. If we become involved in the cultivation of hemp for fiber, we may wish to participate directly in these markets by producing a food product from the seeds.


For further information, contact Earth Pulp and Paper,

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