[permaculture] [FWD: Water Hyacinths utility reply to foreign enquiry]

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Sun Jan 18 23:36:32 EST 2004

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: FWD: Water Hyacinths utility reply to foreign enquiry
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 2004 17:01:32 -0800
From: Lion Kuntz <lionkuntz at YAHOO.COM>
Reply-To: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group <SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU>

The stats on my website surprisingly show that one of
the most downloaded pages is what uses Water Hyacinths
can be turned to. I am forwarding a copy of a reply to
a request, which might have value to readers now, or
in the future...

----- Original Message -----
From: "Lion Kuntz" <lionkuntz at email.com>
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 20:39:55 -0800
To: "Dr . K . V . Sankaran" <sankaran at xxxxx.xxx>
Subject: More Water Hyacinth Discussion


I went back to my records to review if I answered your
questions, as posed, to my best ability. My first
response was to share some weblogs on related

This was followed by a second letter which connected
some of these. After your excellent response to my
questions on housing, I felt I shorted you on less
than I could give as answers.

I went back to the internet and looked at furniture
made of Water Hyacinths. Here are links to pictures.
These links were current two days ago. As you can see
from the none-too-large photos, WH is braided into
flat strips, and the flat strips are then braided or
woven into large pieces which constitute the
non-structural portion of the furniture.


The problem presented in your second letter was stated
slightly differently: two problems were blended:
recalcitrant unemployment and clogged waterways. From
the perspective of my overview from the internet, WH
furniture was presented on websites caterring to the
affluent in foreign lands, with at least four layers
of middlemen. Very little, the smallest portion of the
total sale value of the furniture would end up in the
hands of the workers. The labor intensiveness, which
is self evident from the complexity of the articles,
indicates that very little WH is harvested per piece
of furniture. Neither problem is going to be
effectively remedied by WH furniture.

It so happens that you contacted me at a time when I
am investigating plant fibers as ingredient to
indigenous materials for building construction
materials. Here is a high-local value application
which can consume large quantities of fibers, making a
serious dent in WH's supply.

As I stated in a previous reply, I do not have local
access to WH and I have to trust the accuracy of the
published reports and papers to give me a (possibly
incorrect) picture from afar.

I am currently experimenting with fiber-reinforced
cement building panels. In my experiments I will be
using waste paper fibers, coir, shreaded paddy straw,
rice hulls, and such fillers and fibers as I find
locally available. If WH was available I would try
that too. The building panels depend on geometric 3-D
structure more than materials for their strength. I
have made models using recycled cereal box gray
cardboard and have been impressed with the strength
developed without addition of any cement for long-term
exterior environmental exposures. This new panel board
concept could have applications for shipping
containers (replacing corrugated cardboard, or apple
boxes), interior partition walls, possibly flooring,
or roofing or siding if permatized with
non-decomposing cementitious bonders. Medium density
fiberboard (MDF) and high density fiberboards (HDF)
are already made and marketed using some of these
fibers, especially straw and bagesse.

With this recent thinking going on in my head, your
letters arrive. My thoughts are the desire to share
this project with you so that you can experiment with
your WH fibers, but the process has not been patented
here, and most probably not been discovered and
patented there either. In the US, any patentable ideas
become the property of the US government if discovered
during work on a government project. While I might not
mind giving rights to my government, or yours, to use
this invention, I don't want to give it to them
exclusively. Especially since not one penny of
government money is helping my work. So you need to
tell me if this is a problem which would develop if I
sent you samples and models for you to adapt to WH

Regardless of what your arrangement is with your
government on this WH quest you are on, I have some
thoughts on bootstrapping a local industry making one
kind or another of building materials reinforced with
waste plant fibers which I do not have a problem
giving to you. There are no major water hyacinths
growing closer than 2,000 miles from me, so I have no
use for these ideas personally or as a business

The very first problem you have to face with WH is
bulk and weight. WH is 80% water, and the fibers are
very hygroscopic as one would expect from a water
plant made of 80% water. Published reports on uses of
WH indicate drying for 5 days by laying out in the
sun, and this is just if one is making COMPOST out of
the WH. Longer drying for furniture is critical. AS
you can imagine, this requires vast drying fields,
preferably at the harvest source spot, so that WH does
not have to be transported while it is soaking wet.

I see a necessity to press out the moisture
immediately at the harvest location. The WH juice is
reported to be nutritious for both humans and
livestock, unless it has excess calcium oxalate
crystal needles, and then has to be boiled. Pressing
WH has the same problem as making furniture by
handcraft -- it is too time consumptive to make a dent
on the growth rate. WH grows at a rate of 200 tonnes
per hectare per year in most favorable circumstances.
A body of water of many hectares needs many harvesters
and pressers just to keep the WH from expanding its
territory, let alone reduction of WH biomass.

A block press, such as the auram earthblock press...
... can develop 15 tons of pressure by handpower,
turning out pressed blocks of WH almost as fast as the
block cavity can be filled. The hollow interlocking
model with two internal holes, or cavities, would
facilitate faster drydown of the WH blocks. Such
blocks can preserve the fibers from decay until they
can be later processed, and the rectangular form
allows maximum density stacking.

If initial WH was soaked in barrels of strong
limewater for a day, then pressed down, a non-rotting
block suitable for building a smokehouse drying kiln
building could be made. Dried WH blocks can build the
drying shed and serve as the fuel for heating it.
Compressed WH briquettes have 80% of the heating value
of cordwood. Holes in the briquette blocks would
facilitate developing a better heat from burning the

As you can see, with very little investment so far,
the beginnings of a small industry can be made. Dried
WH takes much less transportation expense, and the
compact nature of tiny bales or blocks, permits
maximizing volume onto conveyances. For dispersed
cottage industries making WH braided strips for
furniture or other crafts purposes, enough material
can be transported by bicycle cart to keep a worker
supplied for several days of braiding.

If machinery can be supplied to the project, then you
have a possibility of making progress in reducing the
WH "problem". A steam engine can be fueled by WH
briquettes, driving a shore mounted wench towing in
rafts of WH. And the same steam engine can power a
roller press to press out excess liquid immediately on
shore. The kinds of pressed fiberboards I am
interested in would be best made by machine pressing.

In an interim period, mixing a suitable quantity of
cementitious materials with WH fibers could make
pressed blocks and panel boards through hand presses
alone. Earthblocks or bricks are typically stabilized
with 5% to 10% (by weight) of portland cement to earth
material. A much lighter fiber-reinforced cement brick
of the same loadbearing strength could be made, has
been made here, using about the same contents of

In 1927 the famous friend of Indira Ghandi, Dr. R.
Buckminster Fuller, was involved in the "stockade
block" patent, which used woodchips and cementitious
material in a pressure press to make hollow two-hole
interlocking bricks which weighed only 2 pounds but
were 8"x16"x4" (exactly half size of a modern concrete
moulded hollow-core building block). A building
constructed from such a block system in 1927 appeared
in a book published in 1979, and had lasted 52 years
so far. For all I know, that building still stands.

Modern knowledge has advanced far since Fuller's
blocks. Thousand of formulas of cementitious materials
exist, including blends of milled blast furnace slag,
flyash, rice hull ash, etc. There are many stretchers
for expensive portland cement, which is not all that
expensive according to the numbers you provided in
your last letter.

WH can not only make furniture, it can make the
factory that makes the furniture, make the homes of
the workers in the factory, and power the machines in
the factory. Of course, burning WH is only a temporary
measure: asia suffers from too much smoke and CO2
emissions already. WH may make it possible to move up
to a factory that makes PV solar cells in a "PV
Breeder", so that you can retire the smoky fuels

Good Luck. Let me know if you want a CD-ROM of my
website data, about 150 megabytes of pictures and text
on "Palaces For The People". And let me know if you
want to collaborate on my geometric construction
boards experiments.

Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
Santa Rosa, California, USA

Attached are some more WH web citations:

Physical control
Mechanical removal of water hyacinth is seen as the
best short-term solution to the proliferation of
the plant. It is however costly, using either
land-based ‘clamshell’ bucket cranes, draglines or
booms or, alternatively, water based machinery such as
mowers, dredges, barges or specially
designed aquatic weed harvesters. Such methods are
suitable for only relatively small areas.
Many of these techniques require the support of a
fleet of water and land-based vehicles for
transporting the large quantities of water hyacinth
which is removed. Mats of water hyacinth can
be enormous and can have a density of up to 200 tonnes
per acre (Harley, Julien and Wright,
Manual removal of water hyacinth is suitable only for
extremely small areas. It is difficult, labour
intensive work and in some areas there are serious
health risks associated with the work
(crocodiles, hippopotamus and bilharzia in Lake
Victoria for example).
Transportation of the harvested weed is also costly,
because it has such a high water content.
Chopping can reduce the volume and the water

...Goods such as furniture and paper target largely
overseas markets, but other initiatives are
investigating more local uses for water hyacinth. The
Housing and Building Research Institute in Dhaka have
experimented with making hardboard of different
densities by mixing water hyacinth cuttings with
different adhesives, and suggest such products are
suitable for internal use as partition walls and
ceilings. However, they have also been developing
roofing materials made from water hyacinth- reinforced
cement corrugated sheet and bitumen coated water
hyacinth board. Although there are many such uses for
water hyacinth, these are often constrained by the
cost of harvesting and transport, and as a result most
projects remain at the cottage industry level and rely
on being located close to a sustainable source of the
weed, as they are in Bangladesh. ...


Working Paper No. 51
Economic Utilisation of Water Hyacinth from Lake
1.1 Fibre production
As a fibre WH compares poorly with many other plants,
since the staple is short
(6µm) and somewhat brittle; indeed WH fibre is similar
to wheat straw fibre[Ghosh 1983].
However cardboard was produced on a pilot plant basis
from WH stems in the Building
Research Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh in the 1980s and
the Station also investigated the
feasibility for using WH for building board
manufacture [Haider, 1989]. Experiments then
indicated that board production was feasible but not
necessarily competitive with other fibre
sources such as jute, since its manufacture required a
significant input of processing reagents
(hot alkalis). Cetain properties of WH pulp lend
themselves to the production of specialised
greaseproof papers. Earlier experiments in Florida
involving the blending of WH stem and
pine craft pulp had indicated poorer prospects.

In a number of locations round the world, including
Uganda [Johnstone 1997], dried WH
stems have been used for the production of handicrafts
such as bowls, baskets and greetings
cards. Dried and mechanically processed stem fibres
are combined with rattan in cane
furniture exported from Indonesia to Europe (Cane
Company, UK). The plant’s stems are
predominantly lignin and hemi-cellulose and
consequently relatively free from putrescible

Literature Review on Use of Nonwood Plant Fibers for
Building Materials and Panels


Fiber-Cement Siding to Replace Conventional Materials

In Waxahachie, Texas, Kafus Environmental Industries
and Temple Inland Forest Products Corporation are
developing FORTRA™ fiber-Cement siding.  This
eco-friendly building material composed of sand,
cement and paper mill pulp replaces wood, vinyl and
aluminum siding.  It does not burn, is highly
resistant to water and salt spray damage, will not
rot, and boasts a 50-year warranty.  Kafus expects the
cement fiberboard market to grow from 2 percent to
over 30 percent of the existing siding market by 2005
when it will surpass conventional siding alternatives.
  In fact, Kafus expects to increase its market share
with all of its products in the coming years.

The Goldboard Vision
Straw can substitute for wood as fiber source for
panels. The conventional panels from wood have
undergone a remarkable growth in consumption and such
demand growth is expected to accelerate on a global
scale. Goldboard Development Corporation (GDC) has
resolved to develop, construct and operate strawboard
plants with a global vision.

  > ----- Original Message -----
  > From: Dr.K.V.Sankaran
  > Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 12:33:53 +0530
  > To:
  > Subject: Water hyacinth
  > Hi,
  > I am a scientist working on weeds from India. I
would like to know details on water hyacinth being
used for making furniture and other purposes around
the globe.  Would you be able to help ?
  > Regards
  > Dr. K.V. Sankaran

   >  ----- Original Message -----
   >  From: Dr.K.V.Sankaran
   >  Hi,
   >  Thanks for the prompt response. You would perhaps
know that water hyacinth is a big problem in
backwaters, rivers and canals in India. It is more so
in Kerala State. It seems that the Government
machinery is informed about the possibility of using
water hyacinth for various purposes ( for eg.
furniture making as done in Thailand and New Zealand).
I have been asked by the Govt of Kerala to provide
available information on these so that we can also
try. Hence the request. If you are aware of any more
reference specifically on this issue, it would of
great help.
   >  Regards
   >  Sankaran

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Sincerely, Lion Kuntz
Santa Rosa, California, USA
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Suggested Websites:
Wesley Clark for President http://www.clark04.com/
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