Demand for hemp products has been growing significantly in recent years, and with hemp legalization in the United States moving closer to reality, innovative technology is coming to the industry, too. In fact, as the hemp industry grows, more advanced technology will be required to boost production in order to keep up with consumer demand. As a result, this technology should help decrease costs for cultivators and manufacturers, thereby boosting their profits and hopefully, lowering prices to consumers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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?
Companies continue to push boundaries to develop new technologies that will drive the hemp industry forward. With a goal 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 in the future. The hard part is waiting to see what comes next!
What’s the most innovative technology you’ve seen in the hemp industry? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, 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 25-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. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, 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.