Kirei Board: A Radical Material with a Big Impact

Kirei (pronounced "key'-ray") is a company which produces modern, innovative, eco-friendly materials. The word represents the Japanese character meaning "beautiful" or "clean." Although this material has been covered on TreeHugger before, it's environmental benefits have never been truly explored. It really is a remarkable material. Kirei Board was the companies first product, developed for architects and interior designers as a low-impact, nontoxic material. It's made of Sorghum Straw, KR Bond adhesive, and Poplar wood. Kirei Board has been in use for wall coverings, cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and other decorative and finished products. It is different than particle board because the stalks left over after harvesting the Sorghum plant (which is used to produce food products) are woven tightly and then heat-pressed with a no-added-urea-formaldehyde adhesive. The production of Kirei Board serves as an additional income source for farmers who would otherwise burn or simply discard Sorghum stalks after harvest.
Why is it an eco-friendly alternative?
Sorghum stalks used in the manufacture of Kirei Board are a rapidly renewable resource left after the edible portion of the plant is harvested. They are currently using the plant in the United States to create syrup. The potential to also use Sweet Sorghum as a viable biofuel has been a big topic in the news. In a Reuters interview with Mark Winslow, an agriculture expert at the International Crops Research Institute:

"The plant has the potential to produce a 'smart' biofuel that won't cut into world food supplies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture studies show corn-based ethanol produces one and a half times as much fuel as the energy used to make it. Sweet sorghum on the other hand, produces 8 units of fuel for every 1 unit of fuel used to make it in developing countries. Even in the United States, where mechanized production uses more fuel, sweet sorghum ethanol should still have 4 times the energy yield of corn-based ethanol."

The potential to create a more efficient biofuel from the grass will increase the demand to grow Sorghum in the United States and in-turn, raise the amount of by-product waste from the stalks which Kirei reclaims. It's unclear if they will be able to use the stalks from the plant to efficiently produce biofuel. On another level, the material reduces the need to use virgin wood from trees which influence the quality of our environment. This is an important issue as trees clean our air, soil and water, while their roots work to keep soil in place and prevent erosion.


How is it used?
Kirei Board mills and finishes much like wood. Many of the tools, adhesives and finishes for woodworking are compatible with Kirei Board. Since it is a straw-based material, Kirei Board is softer and more porous than typical wood products. One recommendation we make is not to use this material for flooring due to the softer nature of the Sorghum straw and Poplar.

Any Downsides?
There are a few things about growing and harvesting the sorghum plant which should be noted. According to studies done at the University of Missouri, in stages of growing, Sorghum can contain levels of cyanide and nitrates which have been proven lethal to grazing animals. This is only in the early stages of plant growth. In addition, the specific Sorghum species called "Johnson Grass," is classified as invasive by the US by the Department of Agriculture.


For the Architects Out There.
LEED Credits can be obtained when using the product for its Recycled Content (at least 90% post-industrial recycled Sorghum Straw). It also scroes well as a rapidly renewable material with Sorghum straw being grown in yearly harvest cycle. Finally, LEED points are available since it's a low-emitting material. It's a composite "wood" with no added urea formaldehyde. Kirei also produces products such as non-toxic Wheatboard which is an alternative to formaldehyde-emitting wood MDF, and Coco Tiles which are decorative tiles and panels manufactured from the reclaimed coconut shells. Both of these materials are targeted for not only residential, but also commercial environments.

See the profile of Kirei Board on Ecolect.

Materials Monday is a column written by Matt Grigsby, CEO & Co-founder of Ecolect, where you can discover more about this and other green materials.

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