Hemp: America’s Cash Crop RevisitedHistorically, hemp helped build the United States of America. During the 17th century, it was considered a farmer’s “civic duty” to grow the crop. However, collusion of special interests threatened by the cannabis industry successfully accomplished the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which prohibited industrial hemp production. Complemented by the anti-hemp and cannabis propaganda, and politics, hemp was prevented from being grown as a legitimate crop in the US until the 2014 Farm Bill.
CannabisTech's Rob Neely had an opportunity to learn about the growing hemp market during a recent interview with Carl (Carell) Lehrburger, a self-proclaimed “Hempster," as well as co-founder and Chief Operations Officer, of PureVision Technology, Inc., and Executive Manager of PureHemp Technology, LLC.
Carell shares his passion for advancing the entire cannabis industry. He advocates that removal of federal prohibitions will not only help attract the financing and commercial interest to legitimize the industry but will also benefit the entire agricultural value chain through technology advances and establish hemp processing infrastructure.
Sustainable, Renewable, Higher Value Products
Although CBD (Cannabidiol) extraction for medicinal or dietary purposes is having a significant impact on the demand for hemp products, Carell reminds us that the potential of the hemp plant doesn’t start or end with producing CBD oils. While the flowers of specialized varieties of hemp get processed into medicinal products, the seeds produce many food and nutritional products. The stalks have tremendous potential for supplying many industries with raw materials including fiber for paper and the auto industry and bio-materials to manufacture many types of bio-plastics and building materials.
Pure Vision Technology has developed an advanced technology referred to as Continuous Countercurrent Reactors (CCR), that rapidly breaks down biomass, which is non-food plant matter like corn stalks, wheat straw or hemp stalks. The CCR process converts leftover plant material into a higher-value material including:
- Cellulose – or pulp, which can be used to make paper, chemicals, building products
- Sugars – can be used to produce sweeteners, alcohol, and plastics
- Lignin – which makes up about 20% of the stalk, can be used to make chemicals and plastics
Carell notes that the CCR technology is a game changer in bio-refining, which could lead to the replacement of oil-based products and chemicals with greener non-petroleum based plant-based materials.
With a high demand for more bio-friendly plastics, hemp-based plastics is a large and growing market. Each CCR-derived material – cellulose, lignin, and sugars – can be used to make different types of plastics. For example, the most common type of hemp plastics today are bio-composites, or traditional poly plastics blended with hemp fiber from the stalk as a filler or strengthener. CCR-produced hemp sugars and lignin can be used to produce plant-based alternatives to oil-based plastics, including plastic water bottles. Carell suggests instead of refining oil, plant-based refineries known as “biorefineries” are the future of renewable resources.
Large Scale Economics
There are many types of hemp refineries including small, decentralized seed and fiber processing operations all the way to industrial-scale biorefineries. Decentralized processing operations including harvesting, threshing, decortication, extraction of CBD, seed cleaning and seed oil extraction can work on a small scale but generally are recognized in a larger scale than many small farmers can afford. For example, decortication is the mechanical process of separating the long, outer fiber from the inner shorter fibers of the hemp stalk.
With unprocessed hemp stalks, after curing and baling, farmers can expect to obtain between $80 to $120 per ton depending on markets. However, after decortication of, the same plant material has a value of $300 - $500 per ton to the grower. Carell envisions a future of hemp processing capabilities on a farmer co-op scale, so individual growers can increase the value of their crops without personally investing in the equipment. However, the challenges lie in financing the necessary infrastructure including developing industrial-scale facilities to produce hemp pulps, refined lignin and sugars – each being an intermediate material for manufacturing thousands of plant-based products.
The US is the largest consumer market of hemp products in the world, yet most of these products are sourced from outside the United States. Most hemp seed oils for lotions, soaps, and beauty products are currently sourced from Canada. Hemp for textiles is grown and produced in China and India, while European and other countries are advancing intellectual property and patents ahead of the US.
Carell advocates for cannabis in all forms and applications, as well as, removing federal restrictions and barriers to interstate commerce to allow for better funding and financing. Carell stressed during the interview that ending federal prohibition was the key to advancing the hemp and cannabis industries to their full potential. In fact, he reminds us that,
“Federal drug laws prohibiting growing cannabis including both hemp and marijuana are unconstitutional. The tenth Amendment to the Constitution, with just one line, demonstrates the illegality of federal anti-cannabis laws: ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”