Industrial Hemp RefiningColorado Company Promotes Whole Hemp Utilization, Demonstrates Industrial Hemp Processing Innovation
Now that U.S. farmers are beginning to grow industrial hemp after 80 years of prohibition, hemp-based agriculture and product manufacturing are rapidly advancing throughout the U.S. As part of the fast moving and evolving industrial hemp industry a Colorado company, PureHemp Technology LLC (PureHemp), is focusing on processing the whole hemp plant while scaling up a new hemp conversion technology to meet the growing demand for hemp processing facilities.
Today, most of the hemp plant is underutilized, whether grown for textiles in China, for seed oil in Canada, or for CBD production in the US. Why is most of the hemp plant going to waste? Historically the hemp plant was used for medicine, food, and fiber. In modern times however, specialized hemp varieties tend to focus on optimizing flower, fiber or seed applications instead of using the whole hemp plant. But it’s the lack of processing infrastructure that is preventing full utilization, resulting from decades of prohibition and absence of investment capital for building stalk and seed processing operations.
With little interest to date from investors in financing hemp stalks and seed processing infrastructure, PureHemp entered the extraction business in 2015, expanded their high tech laboratories, developed cannabinoid-infused products, established the Pure Kind BotanicalsTM brand and began marketing their premium line of products. Now, along with hundreds of other CBD production enterprises, PureHemp processes flowers into a dietary supplement and topical products; but unlike its competitors, PureHemp is developing the technologies and infrastructure to process the rest of the hemp plant as well.
Hemp Processing Today
Today hemp can be legally grown in 33 states, challenging the federal ban enacted in 1937 and growers are beginning to seek markets for hemp seeds and stalks. Most capital currently being invested in hemp is for extracting cannabinoids, and utilizing the stalks (up to 75% of the plant) is an afterthought. The same is true of hemp seed production – most of the stalks remain in the field. If American industry is not willing to invest in processing facilities, how can US farmers compete with the Canadians who already have a mature seed processing industry with over 100,000 acres of hemp under cultivation? Or the Chinese textile industry, with over $300 million in existing infrastructure in place?
To address hemp farmers’ immediate needs for processing stalks into higher value products, PureHemp is advancing different hemp stalk-processing methods. Later this year, equipment known as a decorticator will be arriving in Ft. Lupton, Colorado. A decorticator rapidly separates the long outer bast fiber from the inner core from hemp stalks creating two separate fractions. The first fraction of long bast fiber is an ideal raw material for producing rope, canvas, textiles, and carpets, just to name a few applications. The inner core of the hemp stalk referred to as “wood” or the “hurd” fraction, can be used for producing animal bedding, building products, hempcrete, wood pellets, and many other products.
The “D-8” decorticator, due to arrive in November, is being made in Australia and has been purchased by Colorado-based All Seeing Hemp LLC. Unlike other decortication processes, the Australian made equipment can use green stalks in addition to dried stalks. Conventional harvesting of hemp involves “retting” the stalks to facilitate the separation of the long and short fibers. Eliminating the retting, drying and storing steps prior to decortication achieves significant cost and labor savings achieved in addition to yielding higher quality fiber. For example, retting and baling stalks into hemp “stover” might provide a grower $85-$125/ton, targeting animal bedding markets. By comparison properly decorticated stalks yielding clean hurd and bast fibers should yield a value of about $1000/ton.
By adding de-gumming equipment post decortication, bast fibers can be made “mill-ready”, commanding over $10,000/ton for producing textiles. But even with hemp legalization, expanding agriculture and improving decortication equipment, the rebirth of the textile industry may remain elusive in the U.S. Until U.S. industries make the capital investments in infrastructure, any mill-ready hemp fiber produced in the U.S. will likely be sold to Chinese mills.
All Seeing Hemp plans to offer decortication services to hemp growers in Colorado, allowing them to create higher value co-products from the hemp plant and enabling whole hemp utilization.
New Technology on the Horizon
Beginning in 2014, PureHemp scientists began processing hemp stalks using the company’s one-of-a-kind testing facility in Fort Lupton, Colorado. Patented technology breaks down biomass including hemp stalks into bio intermediates -- pulps, lignin and sugars. These biomaterials are the foundation for manufacturing thousands of products ranging from paper products, bio-plastics, sweeteners and alcoholic beverages.
© PureVision Technology, Inc.
The PureHemp technology, referred to as Continuous Countercurrent Reactor (CCR), rapidly deconstructs biomass into biomaterials: fiber (for textile and papermaking), sugars (to replace petroleum used in many products), and lignin (the gooey “binder” that provides strength and rigidity to all plants). These biomaterials can be used to manufacture a new generation of products made from plants instead of petroleum.
© PureVision Technology, Inc.
The applications of these three value-added hemp materials resulting from the PureHemp technology are distributed over a wide range of consumer, industrial and commercial products and include: 1) Pulps from the cellulose fraction for producing a wide variety of personal care, films, building, composite and paper products; 2) lignin, which makes up about 20% of industrial hemp, to produce chemicals, adhesives, coatings, composites and plastics; and 3) sugars for producing chemicals, nutraceuticals, sweeteners, beverages and plastics. Compared to traditional pulping mills, the PureHemp technology uses agricultural residues and wood, has a smaller footprint and lower projected capital and operating costs.
The unique CCR process produces biomaterials in minutes – not hours like competitive pulping processes – that are used to create hemp-based products. PureHemp currently has the capability of producing barrel-quantity samples of hemp fiber, sugars and other materials for formulating bio-products including cellulose based products, alcohols and nutraceuticals like xylitol. The company is planning a technology scale up from ½- ton per day to a 4-ton per day operation over the next year.
As more states enact legislation legalizing hemp cultivation, hemp growers and end product manufacturers will require hemp processing operations to facilitate the growing supply chain. With decades of prohibition in the U.S. behind us, what seems to be missing is the capital to develop hemp stalks and hemp seed-to-food processing infrastructure. The availability of the decorticator later this year will begin to advance the industry in Colorado. But it will take many hemp refineries to establish the infrastructure for creating a vibrant and profitable industrial hemp industry in America.
Carl Lehrburger is a co-founder of PureHemp Technology LLC and parent company PureVision Technology, Inc. He can be contacted at [email protected] Visit www.PureHempTech.com for information on PureHemp Technology LLC and www.PureKindBotanicals.com for information on Pure Kind Botanicals LLC.
 The 33 states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Virginia. Source: http://www.votehemp.com/us-state-industrial-hemp-legislation.html\
 The long bast fibers have an estimated value of $1500-$2000/ton and the clean hurd $350-$500/ton. The ratio of hurd to bast, the number of tons produced per acre, and the available markets for fiber are all variables that will determine revenue to the farmer.