Good ideas probably won't make most people's list of things that come from the federal government. Ask a group in McAllen, Tex., though, and they'll have to credit the feds with researching what they're now hoping to commercialize: an African plant that can be made into paper.
Back in the 1950s the government hunted for plants that could be grown domestically to supplement timber. Scientists settled on kenaf, a hibiscus plant, but this research was essentially halted in the late 1970s.
In 1981, though, moves toward making money off the research were resurrected. Kenaf International was founded in Bakersfield, Calif., to pursue the commercialization of kenaf as a new crop for farmers and as an industrial fiber. With the transfer of the technology from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kenaf International proceeded to produce seeds, conduct demonstration runs at wood-pulp plants, and test the product as newsprint. Kenaf International has retained a minority position in a new venture, Kenaf Paper, which expects to break ground on a $50-million manufacturing plant in Texas next year.
-- Leslie Brokaw* * *