Canadian investors are putting $1m into a new company based in Raleigh, North Carolina that has developed a technology that converts tobacco plants into dyes, fibres and textiles for the first time.

Investor ComWest Enterprise Corp says Ploughboy's patent pending technology, developed by its founder and CEO Suzanne DeVall, "opens up an opportunity for the tobacco plant, which has never before been used to produce fibre or dyes, to become a new global and renewable raw material resource."

Eco-friendly products continue to be a key growth driver for the textile industry - with an accompanying need for alternative sources of dyes and fibres which are sustainable, organic and non-toxic.

Worldwide sales of "organic" cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated US$4.3bn in 2009 - a 35% increase over 2008.

The global market for textile dyes alone is projected to reach US$5.5bn by the year 2015, driven in part by innovative eco-friendly dyes and chemicals, and a resurgence in post-recession demands. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile colouration and treatment.

The unique properties of the tobacco plant and its ability to be grown in a certified organic manner mean it can be used in its entirety to produce fibre and dyes with minimal environmental impact and waste. It is also naturally antimicrobial and produces fibres that can be blended with cotton, wool, silk and cashmere.

With the help of research at North Carolina State University, the Ploughboy technology has achieved the "proof of concept" stage with respect to the production capability for organic dyes and fibres.

Pre-commercial production of dye concentrate is expected to be in place by this summer, allowing Ploughboy to produce sample dye orders to major retail brands and textile manufacturers.

This will also put it in a position to expand its reach and capacity through license agreements with major dye houses in North America and abroad.