Nothing is wasted in the hemp plant

written by Brenton Harding and edited by Doug Firby

Olds – Innovative companies have begun to invest in hemp, creating a new soil-to-consumer industry.

Hemp’s greatest value rests in “whole crop utilization,” using every part of the plant, said Tam Tekle, chief executive officer of Natural Fibre Technologies.

Whole-crop utilization involves three basic crop products: grain, straw, and flowers and leaves. The latter have the highest potential return on investment followed by grain and straw, Tekle said.

Hemp straw shows the strongest environmental and social impacts. Seeds, flowers, and plant roots can be upgraded to food and chemical uses and further upgraded in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products.

Tekle emphasized the importance of a strategic alliance with hemp growers to provide a secure supply of process fibre.

The first step in hemp processing is decortication, removal of the outer layer of the hemp plant. He said mobile decorticator equipment, in field trials, has resolved volume issues. Fibre quality from the mobile unit has been “positive,” Tekle told a conference at Old College in March.

First-generation hemp utilization is in composites for construction, oil and gas, automotive, glass replacement, and “custom applications.” The next generation will be fibre-based platforms, performance composites and “higher-value industrial feed stock.”

Tekle said a third generation of product will one day deliver “ultra-microscopic fibre platforms, cellulose nanocrystals, graphene, and others.”

Natural Fibre Technologies began in 1998 as Tekle Technical Services, producing bio-composite products and developing technology mainly for the forest products industry. By 2008, the company had evolved into an incubator with pre-commercialization studies including fibre, cement, composite panels, and fibre mat while developing fibre plastic composites.

The Edmonton-based company develops value-added products from forestry and agricultural byproducts. It’s first commercial spin-off in 2013, BioComposites Group, resulted in development of a multimillion-dollar engineered fibre mat plant in Drayton Valley.

The audience for the sold-out conference included investors and researchers, business representatives looking for opportunities, hemp growers, and governments.

The second annual conference at Olds College was co-hosted by the Agriculture Food Council of Alberta (AFC) and the Alberta Council of Technologies Society (ABCtech). AFC assists Alberta farmers and food companies in moving to the next level. ABCtech brings companies and individuals together for advancing emerging technologies and diversifying Alberta’s economy. Olds College conducts applied research and integrated learning to agriculture, horticulture, land and stewardship.