10 Innovative Technologies in the Hemp Industry
The future of the hemp industry is technological innovation. This is an industry that is already growing rapidly despite the fact that formal federal and state rules aren’t in place yet. As the hemp industry grows, more advanced technology will be required to boost production and cost efficiencies in order to meet consumer demand and keep product prices affordable.
Fortunately, there are companies across the world that are already researching and launching technology to not only help hemp growers and manufacturers but also to expand the ways hemp can be used in daily life, thereby increasing business opportunities throughout the industry.
At a recent summit held at HempToday’s International Center of Excellence in Poland, Hemp Machines & Technology, attendees learned about innovative hemp technology for multi-cropping, harvesting, industrial scale decortication, micro-decortication, industrial scale CO2 extraction technology, solar-powered processing, building integrated energy storage capacity from hemp plant materials, and more.
Here are 10 innovative technologies that are changing the hemp industry and the larger world:
1. Cultivation and Manufacturing Machinery
Within the hemp industry, technology is having a significant impact on cultivation and manufacturing. From artificial intelligence used to grow hemp and new machinery used to harvest it, innovative technology is helping farmers and processors boost production and lower costs.
For example, Canadian Greenfield Technologies Corp. developed machinery for hemp manufacturing that processes raw hemp and separates it into hemp fibers, leaves, and hurds, which are then used to manufacture a wide variety of hemp products for commercial sale.
Another example is PureHemp Technology, which patented its Continuous Countercurrent Reactor (CCR) technology to convert raw hemp into pulp, lignin, sugars, flowers, and seed oil. These components can then be used to manufacture finished hemp-based products. When PureHemp Technology began operations, it could process 1,200 pounds of dry, raw hemp per day. Thanks to its technological innovations, the company can now process four tons per day and expects to process more than 40 tons per day by 2021.
In 2019, Hemp Harvest Innovations launched proprietary technology that makes cannabinoid extraction faster, less expensive, and safer than traditional extraction methods. Also in 2019, Canopy Rivers made a $10 million investment in ZeaKal, which will bring ZeaKal’s proprietary plant genetics technology, PhotoSeed, to the cannabis and hemp industries. As a result, Canopy Rivers expects to increase crop yields and oil production, gain additional grow cycles, and improve its cannabinoid output.
Did you know that hemp can be used as a raw material for biofuels as cellulosic ethanol?
Unlike corn-based ethanol, which researchers have found to be nearly as bad for the environment as fossil fuels, cellulosic ethanol is a lot closer to carbon-neutral, meaning it has a carbon footprint of closer to zero than corn-based ethanol. In addition, as a biofuel, hemp is more sustainable than fossil fuels and could be used for electricity and to power cars.
Companies are taking notice of hemp’s potential as a biofuel. In 2014, Extreme Biodiesel received a $5 million line of credit to grow hemp. The company also operates a mobile hemp biodiesel unit through its subsidiary, XTRM Cannabis Ventures, which can move to different sites as needed.
Hemp can be used to make all kinds of plastics, which are just as durable and lightweight as traditional plastic but the hemp material is far more environmentally friendly. Plastic made from hemp can be used just like traditional plastic. It can be molded and 3D printed, and it’s biodegradable.
Zeoform is a material that uses industrial hemp along with other recycled fibers to make a type of plastic that is 100% recyclable. Zeoform can be molded as needed to replace traditional plastic, wood, or composite material.
Another example is Sana Packaging, which makes sustainable packaging for the cannabis industry using 100% plant-based hemp plastic and other sustainable materials.
It takes 20-80 years for each tree cut down to make paper to be replaced with a new tree that has grown to maturity. It only takes hemp stalks four months to grow. The world produces around 400 million tons of paper every year, and it takes an average of 17 trees to produce one ton of paper (the number varies from 12 for newsprint to 24 for white office paper). That means six billion, eight hundred million trees are cut down to produce paper every year.
Unlike trees, hemp grows quickly and is easily replanted. Over a 20 year period, one acre of hemp can produce as much paper as four to 10 acres of trees. Companies like TreeFreeHemp (part of the Colorado Hemp Company) in Colorado and Green Field Paper Company of California sell paper made from hemp using as many locally-sourced materials as possible.
5. Supercapacitors and Batteries
In 2014, engineering professor David Mitlin of Clarkson University learned how to turn hemp fibers into carbon nanosheets, which could be used as electrodes for supercapacitors. The nanosheets resemble the structure of graphene, a semi-metal commonly used to make nanosheets and the strongest metal ever tested.
Mitlin’s carbon nanosheets actually store energy better than graphene and can be used for supercapacitors and batteries. While traditional graphene costs $2,000 per gram, the graphene-like hemp costs only $500 per ton. Ultimately, these nanosheets could be used to power houses, cars, and more.
6. Building Materials
Technological innovations have brought us building materials manufactured with hemp. For example, hempcrete is a type of concrete made with hemp and lime. It’s carbon negative and stronger than traditional concrete but just one-seventh the weight. It’s also resistant to cracks, fire, mold, and termites and offers highly efficient insulation which can reduce energy costs by up to 70% annually.
While hempcrete has been in use since the 1960s, it’s only just gaining popularity in the United States. Companies like Tiny Hemp Houses in Colorado are already gaining traction helping people build all-natural homes from hempcrete.
In addition to concrete alternatives, hemp is being used to make wood alternatives. Fibonacci, LLC’s HempWood is made with a patented technology and is 20% denser than oak. It takes just four to six months to grow and harvest a hemp crop compared to 60 years for an oak tree to mature, which makes HempWood a more ecologically- and economically-friendly option.
Hemp is also being used to make insulation by companies like Sunstrand and wood finish and deck stain sealers by companies like Hemp Shield. Unlike many other types of wood finish and deck stain sealers, Hemp Shield does not include hazardous air pollutants or toxic chemicals like formaldehyde.
Technology is also being used to process hemp into materials that can be used to make furniture. The patented Zeoform can be used for plastics as discussed in #3 above, and it can be used to make furniture like tables and chairs. Zeoform can be molded and coated in a variety of finishes making it an excellent replacement for wood.
Even designers are getting involved in taking hemp technology to the next level. Furniture designer Werner Aisslinger partnered with BASF Acrodur (a division of BASF) to design and manufacture a hemp chair using BASF Acrodur’s ecotechnology.
Did you know hemp needs 50% less water than cotton does in order to produce a yield 200-250% more than cotton?
Hemp can be used not just to make fabric but to make bacteria-fighting fabric. Scientists in China developed a blend of hemp fibers in the 1990s with a high resistance to staph bacteria. Since staph infections are so common and can be deadly for some patients, this type of technological innovation is extremely important to the healthcare industry.
Colorado’s EnviroTextiles manufactures a hemp-rayon fabric blend that research studies have found to be 98.5% staph resistant. The fabric is also 61.5% pneumonia-free. But that’s not all! It’s also resistant to UV and infrared wavelengths.
For years, scientists have been researching ways to develop materials from hemp that can replace both the plastic and metal components of cars. They’ve discovered that hemp fibers, which have a higher strength to weight ratio than steel and are significantly less expensive, are the solution.
Hemp-based materials are also biodegradable, and they typically weigh 30% less than materials currently used in car manufacturing. That means cars made with hemp-based materials will see a sizeable increase in fuel efficiency compared to cars made with plastics and metals. Considering that hemp fibers are less expensive to manufacture than metals and plastics, it’s not surprising that companies like Diamler/Chrysler, BMW, and Audi Volkswagen are already using hemp materials in their cars.
However, it’s not just the big car companies that are using hemp. After entrepreneur Bruce Michael Dietzen built his own hemp car (like Henry Ford did in 1941), he started a company, Renew Sports Cars, which builds custom hemp bodied sports cars.
10. Household Goods
Hemp technology can be found in a wide variety of household goods. Aside from foods and essential oils, consumers can also find hemp water filters, glasses, pens, and more. In fact, a quick Google search reveals far more products than you probably thought could be made from hemp. Here are some of those hemp products:
- Dog toys
- Animal feed
- Laundry detergent
The list goes on and on, and as more innovative technologies continue to disrupt the hemp industry, we can assume this list will keep getting longer.
What’s Next for Innovative Technologies in the Hemp Industry?
Since industrial hemp has been illegal for so long in the United States, companies haven’t been able to research and develop technologies that cultivators, manufacturers, and consumers need. In many instances, technology is simply not available.
For example, law enforcement needs technology that can detect legal hemp and differentiate it from cannabis. Without adequate technology, not only are new process and product innovations limited, but prices to consumers remain higher than they could be. Fibonacci’s efforts to make the price of HempWood comparable to oak by 2020 is a perfect example.
Despite the delays and barriers, companies continue to push boundaries to develop new technologies that will drive the hemp industry forward. With goals to expand uses of hemp, develop new methods for hemp cultivation and processing, and launch new hemp products – and doing so faster, cheaper, and with higher quality – it’s certain we’ll see many innovative hemp technologies debut in the future.
Originally published 4/19/19. Updated 9/27/19.
Susan Gunelius, Director of Email Marketing Strategy for Cannabiz Media , is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc. , a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her nearly 30-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Business, Content Marketing for Dummies , 30-Minute Social Media Marketing , Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps , and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business , an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.
Inside the Future of Hemp Technology
With the passing of the 2018 farm bill, the US hemp industry entered a new age. For years, it had been the province of small, enterprising companies, trying to operate in a sector catching up to legality. But now that federal approval has finally arrived, these hemp pioneers could soon be out-competed by the hemp opportunists.
Fortunately, the industry veterans might just have enough hemp expertise to stay ahead of the new kids on the stock.
“There’s a lot of hype. And there’s a lot of folks that are just jumping in to make a quick buck,” says Jonathan Vaught, PhD.
Years ago, over a cup of coffee in Boulder, Colorado, Vaught and his business partner Nick Hofmeister had a vision: to marry the best scientific knowledge at hand with hemp agriculture. In 2015 that vision became Front Range Biosciences, a biotechnology company that enables growers to produce pathogen-free plants with prime properties. Now, with years of experience behind them, Vaught and his team are some of the industry’s leading experts in hemp cultivation – expertise that could be sorely sought after in the booming years ahead.
So, just what can companies learn from Front Range Bio?
“So, the business is really split into two parts,” explains Vaught. “The first part is our Clean Stock nursery program, which is really about creating the highest quality young plants and seeds and providing them to growers so they can generate the highest value for their craft.”
“And the other part is our breeding program, which is really about understanding the underlying biology and the genome behind this plant so that we can accelerate the breeding process and create improved varieties with new traits that are commercially relevant.”
The former aspect of the business is perhaps what Front Range Bio is best known for. And informed by decades of hemp research, this Clean Stock nursery program might be the most regimental cannabis breeding strategy in the US. In a thorough nine-stage process, the cannabis cuttings are washed, pathogen-tested, and grown in a controlled series of lab, greenhouse, and outdoor environments. By the end of the programme, the remaining plants should be the most productive, pathogen-free, and profitable a grower could hope for. And as disease outbreaks can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, it’s a programme that’s highly coveted.
“Whether [our clients] are big outdoor hemp growers or indoor marijuana growers, greenhouse growers or in between, the Clean Stock® program develops clean, healthy, more vigorous plant material to distribute to our growers,” says Vaught.
But Front Range Bio’s vigorous, healthy plants aren’t just products of its peerless cultivation programme. This biotechnology company’s seeds of success are quite literal.
“We can create a population of 10,000 seeds, grow them up, sample the DNA from those seedlings, and then you can look for specific markers or combinations of markers that would be indicative of a specific trait,” explains Vaught. This is Front Range Bio’s second selling point: the ability to genetically screen seedlings and weed out the weaker plants before they can even grow. Wasting effort on ‘lesser hemp’ is out of the question.
“[These traits] could be indicative of production of a certain cannabinoid or a certain level of disease resistance,” Vaught adds. “So you’re still doing natural selection, meaning you still have to take a male and a female and put them together and make offspring, then look for the strongest with the traits that you care about.”
But while Front Range Bio’s genetic capabilities have helped give the company an advantage when choosing its crops, Vaught is keen to downplay the hype around such technologies. Likening the cannabis sector’s interest in genetic profiling to that of the race to sequence the human genome, the CEO predicts that the technologies’ real benefits will be seen over the decades to come.
“It happened 20 years ago when we sequenced the first human genome, everybody thought, ‘Oh, this is going to change diagnostics; we’re going to cure cancer’,” Vaught says. “Well, here we are, decades later, and it’s still hasn’t happened. And the reason is because biology is much more complex than that.”
“So I think there’s still a lot of work to do and it’s going to take years and multiple labs, companies, universities, and research institutions to really get the crop to a level of understanding that we might have for something like corn or wheat.”
And cannabis’ problems don’t end at its genetic level. According to Vaught, the biggest concern any upcoming cannabis company should be addressing is where to put it all.
“The big challenge that I see is about scale up,” he says. “It’s one thing to grow a few acres or even to grow a few hundred acres. But when you look at other crops, you’re talking about millions of acres around the world. Hemp has a long way to go before we know how to do that effectively.”
To address these challenges, the hemp industry will undoubtedly follow in the steps of conventional agricultural products. Mechanical harvesting, mass transportation, and other such industrial standards will become the norm. With the right investment, this once marginalized sector could soon become just like any other agricultural business.
But cannabis is still a unique plant – its matrix, lifecycle, and market unlike any other mass-produced crop. So while industrial standards are incoming, it will be the companies that add them to their deep understanding of cannabis that will fair best in the competitive future.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement, growth potential, and the influence of huge amounts of investment dollars, and that’s a double-edged sword for the industry,” says Vaught. “We see a lot of folks putting products out on the market without the right level of rigor, validation, and scientific process to make sure their products are high quality and safe.”
“So, I think it’s important for people to keep that in mind when they look at this industry, and they’re thinking about getting involved or investing in it.”
Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Newcastle University and a master’s degree in science communication from the University of Edinburgh.
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Inside the Future of Hemp Technology With the passing of the 2018 farm bill, the US hemp industry entered a new age. For years, it had been the province of small, enterprising companies, trying