The Potential for Hemp is Rich, Diverse, and Proven

by | Dec 30, 2019

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

While the recent CBD craze caused an explosive rise in the acreage of farms devoted to hemp cultivation, cannabinoids aren’t the only winner. Some farmers let perfectly good biomass go to waste, unaware of the versatile benefits hemp brings across several diverse industries. Hemp’s ability to supply textiles, fuels, and building material makes it a worthy rival to incumbent leaders in all of these industries.

The development of specialized hemp processing is not indicative of a newly developing industry, but a recovering one. Hemp was the most abundant agricultural crop globally from 1000 B.C. to the nineteenth century, used in products as diverse as paper and lamp oil. The word canvas comes from the word cannabis. Painters, including Rembrandt and Van Gogh, worked on hemp canvases. 

In 1606 hemp was introduced to North America. A century later, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Several American historical figures, including Lincoln, grew hemp themselves. Even Bible printers used hemp paper. Rope, sails, and clothing also drove hemp's popularity. Hemp stalks provide the material for these products, as well as hemp paper, hempcrete, insulation, and more.

How to Make Use of the Whole Hemp Plant

Hemp biomass is defined as the stalk and potentially post-extraction flower. Processing hemp biomass requires the separation of the bast and hurd fibers achieved through decortication. Bast and hurd fibers are short and long, respectively, and used for different sorts of products. Bast fiber ruled the hemp market for centuries as a source of textile material. Traditionally, hurd fiber was considered a waste product of hemp production. Now, it can be used for products as diverse as construction materials and alternative fuels, such as hemp pellets.

Cultivators can rely on companies with the machinery to process hemp stalks, or they can buy equipment to do so on-site. Power Zone Agriculture offers small-scale mobile processing machines. A lack of large-scale infrastructure available to producers is a setback to the industry, but one which will hopefully be addressed soon. Still, regarding the history of hemp, this is a respectable place for the technology to be. 

The Effects of Prohibition on Hemp's Development

Prohibition against hemp in Canada and America diminished the popularity of the crop in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act. A one dollar per ounce tax on hemp manufacturers allowed competing crops to replace hemp as a reliable source of lignin, fibers, and glucose. 

Currently, the hemp market undergoes a renaissance, but like the European Art Renaissance of centuries ago required funding from the most powerful men of the day, so will this one. The infrastructure for a truly thriving hemp marketplace must be built. 

The lack of infrastructure is why the hemp industry suffers from underutilized biomass rotting in warehouses, or the popularity of selling dry hemp biomass to be used for landscaping and animal begging for a mere $75 – $150 a ton. These issues are not unconquerable, as the profit on biomass increases exponentially with proper processing. 

Pure Hemp has the Solution

Each global hemp industry suffers from overspecialization. China focuses on hemp textiles, the USA on CBD production, and Canada on seed oil. There is no reason cultivators cannot use their harvests for all of these purposes, however. 

Pure Hemp, based out of Fort Lupton, Colorado, offers its Continuous Counter Current Reactor (CCR), which rapidly deconstructs hemp stalks into the biomaterials lignin, cellulose, and sugars. The technology behind the CCR is essentially a pulp mill which continually processes the material. The device produces useable hemp derivatives in minutes.

Producers process hemp cellulose into hemp fiber and pulp, which vary in value. Hurd, the inner hemp stalk short fibers, processes into material used for hemp plastics and hempcrete. Although it’s the second fiber intermediate used to make these products, it offers a value of $300-$500 per ton. Bast fiber, or the long fiber, is worth even more. 

Manufacturers use bast fiber to make rope, canvas, and insulation. Although America lacks the infrastructure to churn out textile grade hemp, industries such as the building, auto, and environmental restoration industries pay well for this material. Manufacturers produce hemp paper from hemp pulp, which another derivative of the stalk. Farmers shouldn’t give up such valuable biomass for a fraction of its worth. 

Lignin provides strength and rigidity to all plants, and hemp lignin works in developing products such as plastics, chemicals, coatings, and adhesives. 

Hemp-derived sugars include glucose and xylose, which works for developing products such as sweeteners, plastics, chemicals, and perhaps most importantly, fuel. Hemp biofuel a cleaner alternative to petroleum, but it avoids the environmental issues inherent in relying on fossil fuels. Additionally, it provides a benefit to the environment through remediating soil, removing waste left from mining, pesticides, and other hazards.  

A Potential Gold Rush with Biofuel Produced from Hemp Biomass 

What’s holding hemp biomass back from becoming a staggeringly profitable product is a lack of infrastructure within the industry. America lacks the hemp processing facilities to compete with the Indian and Chinese hemp textile markets. However, advances in hemp processing could see hemp’s value continue to grow.

Pure Hemp’s CCRs offers a method of processing with less capital investment, and lower operating costs than traditional pulp mills. Also, the CCRs can be run on hemp stalks, thus becoming a carbon-negative operation. 

Although the infrastructure needs millions of dollars of investment to change industry standards, the future is bright. With hemp’s phytoremediation, carbon-neutral processing of hemp into sugars, which are a potential source of biofuel, and biofuel’s cleaner performance than oil, there’s a glorious seed of hope in the hemp industry. 

Replacing oil refineries with biorefineries reduces CO2 emissions, eliminates countries’ reliance on foreign and domestic oil, and provides an economic advantage to hemp farmers worldwide. Pure Hemp aims to achieve this goal and make astronomical profits through absolutely ethical and environmentally friendly practices.