HEMP – The next biobased and sustainable raw material
Hemp fibers and oil are getting ready to break through as an alternative to other industrial plant-based offerings. In both the U.S. and Canada hemp is actively being grown in larger and larger amounts. National organizations in the U.S. include National Hemp Association, National Industrial Hemp Council, Hemp Industries Association and the Hemp Feed Coalition, while in Canada, the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. They all provide a leadership role to promote the development of the hemp food, feed, fractions and industrial use of hemp materials. In the EU markets companies are pushing ahead developing hemp fibers for use in numerous applications including textiles and composite materials.
While there is a large market driving the cannabis containing THC and CBD for consumer recreational and medical uses, industrial hemp itself is being cultivated and processed for food and industrial uses. While both cannabis and hemp are from the same species of plant, hemp is classified as having less than 0.3 percent or less of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
One of the advantages of hemp and why it is looked at for paper and textiles, is it grows faster than trees or other fiber producing crops. The mechanical and physical properties compared favorably to many other natural fibers and have been used in fabrics and textiles, yarns and spun fibers, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, and composites. These applications are expanding as the production of hemp increases and processing technology continues to improve.
While similar to some common oils in linoleic acid content, it has a higher fraction in g-linolenic and Stearidonic acid than any of the other oils show in the graph to the right. Its fatty acid profile makes it a potential candidate for use in many materials such as coatings, polymers, epoxies, surfactants and personal care to name a few.
Hemp is in its infancy and as a result volumes are low which result in higher costs. This in turn translates into higher pricing for hemp, especially hemp seed oil. In the U. S. the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not allow the use of hemp ingredients in animal feed. The Hemp industry organizations in the US and Canada are working with their respective government regulatory groups to gain animal feed approvals for poultry and pork. This will open up a large market for hemp meal allowing for increased grain production, improving processing economies and would aid in improving the cost competitiveness of hemp seed derived oils.