HIA Showcases Industrial Hemp Research

NAIHC.org, Lexington Oct. 8, 2015 – The 2015 Hemp Industries Association (HIA) annual conference included presentations on the latest industrial hemp research findings. (Click here for the conference program.) NAIHC board member Alan Kimbell lists highlights from the presentations he attended:

1. Dr. David Mitlin, Professor, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY. Hemp Fiber Supercapacitors

Dr. Mitlin’s research at Clarkson seeks to transform natural precursors to value added materials, e.g. industrial polymers. He seeks to utilize natural and abundant materials. To this end, he has found and patented a process to create a “cheap” analogue to graphene from hemp.

Graphene is a high value, honeycomb lattice of carbon derived from naturally occurring graphite. It has many prospective uses but is too expensive for most applications. It can be used in capacitors and energy storage – high surface area – high conductivity vs. copper – inert, will not corrode or dissolve – has a firm crust making it stable.

Materials with some of these properties and costs are: activated carbon, $25-$50/kg; carbon fiber $22-$26/kg, graphene $2,000/kg. Mitlin’s process to make a graphene substitute from hemp costs $1.00-$1.50/kg. His process involves separating three strands(layers) of bast fiber (S1, S2, and S3), the layered structure of microfibers – digested to dissolve the S1 and S3 layers, winding up with carbon nanosheets. These are punched (honeycombed) chemically, bonded with magnesium oxide for structural support, then layered into cells. The product has very high conductivity and potential use in electric auto batteries, water desalinization, wind/solar power storage, etc. It benefits from hemp’s unique structure.

Mitlin indicated that negotiations are in process to commercialize the technology. See http://inhabitat.com/hemp-supercapacitor-is-as-good-as-graphene-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost/

2. Adam Watson, Hemp Program Coordinator, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Update on Kentucky Hemp Program

The state’s hemp program is managed by the State Department of Agriculture (KDA). It relies on “private cooperators” who are engaged by KDA via a memorandum of understanding (no complex contracts). Selection of these cooperators is by a competitive process, open only to current farmers. Bidders must submit a research plan and assume all costs. A straightforward program of progress notifications is required of cooperators, who may sell hemp products into the open market with approval of KDA.

In 2014 hemp was produced at 20 locations, with 33.4 acres in production. 5 universities also participated in the effort. In 2015, there were 127 participants, 1,742 acres approved, 992.3 acres actually planted (a very wet planting season held the program back), 14.5 tons of seed were imported by KDA.

KDA provides inspection of plantings, and THC testing via a contract laboratory. More detail can be found at the department website – www.kyagr.com

3. Ed Lehrburger, CEO, PureVision Technology, Biorefining Industrial Hemp

This company, formed in 1992, has developed a machine they’ve named Biorefinery, which can be used for numerous fibrous field materials like cornstalks, wheat straw, etc. They see a valuable application for industrial hemp and have formed a subsidiary, Pure Hemp Technology, and have constructed a pilot plant biorefinery at Ft. Lupton, Colorado. This project has been funded by a single “global client,” inferring that a major company has been attracted to the technology.

The machine, defined as a Continuous Countercurrent Reactor, separates the three prime constituents of hemp stalk: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Lehrburger states that the traditional Kraft method of pulping fiber for paper products requires a 4 hour chemical cycle which can be replaced by a 4 minute cycle using his biorefinery. It further results in a pure lignin which can be used for plastics, specialty chemicals, coatings, binders, and adhesives.

Lehrburger said that they worked with four Colorado hemp growers this year, processing hemp from 900 acres. They are looking for collaborators to move the process to full commercialization.

4. Dr. George Weiblin, PhD, University of Minnesota, Gene duplication and divergence affecting drug content in Cannabis:

Dr. Weiblin, one of a handful of researchers licensed by DEA to investigate cannabis, has concluded a study demonstrating that genetic differences between hemp and marijuana determine whether Cannabis plants have the potential for psychoactivity.

The discovery of a single gene distinguishing the two varieties, which according to Weiblen took more than 12 years of research, could strengthen hemp producers’ argument that their products should not be subject to the same narcotics laws as hemp’s cannabinoid cousin. Since 1970, all Cannabis plants have been classified as controlled substances by the federal government, but nearly half of all states, including Minnesota, now define hemp as distinct from marijuana. Efforts to revise hemp’s U.S. legal status so that it could again be cultivated commercially have gained momentum in recent years.

His work may be accessed through http://geo.cbs.umn.edu

5. Gary Meier, Hemp Genetics International, Hemp Farming and Agronomy in Canada:

Meier has been growing hemp in Northeastern Saskatchewan since 1997; in 2002 he began a breeding program to select desirable traits and limit THC levels. His company has become a major producer of hemp grain seed in Canada. A good description of his program, including agronomic practices, is available at www.hempgenetics.com

6. Jace Callaway, PhD, CEO, Finola ky, Kuopio, Finland , Agronomics of Finola:

Dr. Callaway, a transplanted Texan, is the developer of the popular hemp grain variety Finola .

This variety is bred for its high polyunsaturated fatty acid oil content, high protein, low THC, and short height. Recommended planting is 100 per square meter at 50% germination. Finland has a short – 99 day – growing season so the variety must accommodate that. He states that hemp prefers loamy, loose soils – clay is not desirable. He called for an international system of seed certification for hemp. More detail is found at his website, www.finola.fi

7. Anndrea Herman, The Ridge Consulting, North Dakota State University Hemp Research

Ms. Herman, who is President of Hemp Industries Association, reported on current hemp activity at NDSU. Two one/half acre plots of hemp were planted at the Langston research center, with six varieties. The best yield was at a rate of 1,500 pounds/acre, from the CFX1 variety sold by Hemp Genetics International. Tests are being run for THC, rancidity, and e-coli (occurred by bird droppings on the seed heads.) NDSU is planning an expanded acreage for next year.

8. Aimee Warner, Founder/CEO, Cannabis Basics, Seattle, WA, Body Care and ICHABA (International Cannabis Health and Beauty Aids):

Ms. Warner has developed a line of soaps and body care products derived from industrial hemp oil and marijuana flower which she is marketing through outlets in the state of Washington, including The Body Shop, a UK based international marketer of body care produces, with 600 retail stores in the United States.  Her company has received a U.S. Trade Mark which, for the first time, uses the word Cannabis and has a cannabis leaf logo.  She uses the cold press method of extracting hemp oil as it produces the purest form, as compared with either hot press or hexane extraction, even though the yield is less than from the other forms. Cold pressed hemp oil with its 3:1 ratio of Omega 6: Omega 3 fatty acid is closest of all vegetable oils to natural human values. As an ingredient in topical products, hemp oil is claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Her website is www.cannabisbasics.com

9. Ben Droz, Vote Hemp President and Legislative Liaison, Vote Hemp Federal Report

Ben provided an overview of the current status of federal legislation on industrial hemp. He stated that an unusual combination of conservative, states rights members of Congress with liberal counterparts who favor opening all forms of cannabis is moving the effort. It is complicated by side issues of support for CBD and medical marijuana which have drawn separate legislative proposals in both houses. In the current Congress, Senate Bill 134 and House Resolution 525 (the Industrial Hemp Farming Bill) would remove federal restrictions on industrial hemp farming in the U.S. and allow states to regulate the crop. Droz is hopeful that Kentucky Senator McConnell is preparing to move the bill forward; his status as Majority Leader give this hope some credence. Meantime, Droz calls on hemp enthusiasts to push for additional sponsors in both houses. He is planning a hemp symposium for members and staff on Capitol Hill this fall.

10. Legal Panel including David Bush of Colorado, Courtney Moran of Oregon, and Jonathan Miller of Kentucky:

Bush led off with a description of legal issues in Colorado. He stated that growers in Colorado essentially ignored DEA participation as ordered in the farm bill, and simply went ahead under very light regulation by the state Department of Agriculture. The DofA does authorize hemp farming, requiring GPS location, reporting, and THC testing. Hemp products may be sold only within Colorado. No seed was imported officially; it was either gathered from ditch weed with very uncertain genetic property, or smuggled into the state. Seed sold for $1,500 to $4,000 per pound in 2014, but reduced considerably in 2015. In 2015, 250 Colorado farmers registered under the hemp program, planting 3,000 acres of which only about 2,000 were harvested. In addition, in 2015 hemp was grown in 300,000 square feet of indoor space, primarily for CBD and genetic breeding.

Ms. Moran gave a short report on Oregon. Thirteen licenses to produce hemp were sought, nine planted with limited acreage. The state Department of Agriculture has responsibility for management but little interest or effort to promote. Asked where the seed was obtained, she said, “from God.”

Without state effort, seed import is a problem.

Miller took some time to discuss some emerging legal issues/questions, as Kentucky is well down the road to an active hemp farming program. He sees confusion over CBD, with prospective US Food and Drug regulation. He believes the trend for hemp is strong, and there is a need for federal regulation based on psychoactivity of hemp derivatives. He suggests that Congress will require the Health and Human Services Department to study, report, and regulate on the content of extracts and concentrates sold for health purposes.

11. David Williams, PhD, Agronomist at the University of Kentucky, Hemp Research at the University of Kentucky

Dr. Williams reported on the extensive work he leads at his department on the progress of hemp production in his state. He believes that hemp must become a commodity like other large volume crops, with a sustainable supply chain, so that farmers can reasonably expect profitable planting.

He presented a slide demonstrating that hemp grain can be competitive with corn and soybeans.

Williams also showed a slide comparing the results of various seed sources used in the 2015 field trials; the best performer for grain yield was a seed of Polish origin. He stated, as well, that 2015 in Kentucky was a difficult year for hemp, due to unusual rainfall events during the normal planting season. For an impressive look at the UK hemp program, see http://hemp.ca.uky.edu