Environmentalist T.J. Fiala is working on a plan to keep trees standing and cut down on deforestation. Fiala is producing a tree-free industrial lumber by using hemp, a plant in the cannabis family.

"It's got the hemp hard core with a stressed skin of the hemp fiber around the outside. This would be an example of a three-quarter-inch plywood, which can be used for sheathing, roof decking, some flooring and so on and so forth," said Fiala.

While he’s not trying to replace wood, he is trying to reduce the amount that we use. According to the science journal “Nature,” around 15 billion trees are cut down every year. That’s close to 42 million trees a day.

What You Need To Know

  • Environmentalist and engineer T.J. Fiala, the owner of Structural Biocomposites, has been chosen as one of 10 recipients in NYS to receive a $50,000 grant through the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund created by FuzeHub

  • The funding will help Fiala bring 'Hemp Lumber,' a tree-free alternative to traditional forest service products, to market

  • An acre of hemp produces four times as much biomass as an acre of trees

"I think that this product is going to be world class. I think it's going to really have the opportunity to transform the entire construction industry. And so all of your nonvisual items such as floor joists and trusses for the roof, they can all be made of industrial hemp lumber. And so we can save our forests for the natural beauty of wood," said Fiala.

Fiala created the prototype in his basement, and after years of trying to get the word out, things are finally taking off.

"This will then be used to create the final product, and the final product will be encased in hemp fiber canvas," said Fiala.

His startup, Structural Biocomposites, has received a $50,000 grant from FuzeHub, a nonprofit that provides support and funding to manufacturers in New York.

"An engineer can't engineer a home, for example, using a material characteristic of ‘it's good.’ You have to understand mathematically how good it's going to be," said Fiala.

Over the next year, he’ll flush out the material characteristics for the product and coordinate with factories to get production rolling.

"Eventually, long term, what I would like to see is that the product would be licensed or franchised out, so that way we can make enough mills in order to actually offset the sheer tonnage of forests being taken down on an annual basis," said Fiala.

Fiala says industrial hemp lumber is fireproof, water resistant and holds up to any wood-destroying insects.

"Since hemp can produce four times as much biomass as an acre of trees can over the same time period, I figured hemp would be a good starting point for reducing our deforestation," said Fiala.

And while it’s a starting point, Fiala says just saving one tree can make a difference.