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Does hemp have the potential to produce bioplastics?


Containers from hemp biocomposites manufactured by "Sana Packaging"

The " French hemp packaging " is in the early stages of development . Authorities in the Italian city of Roccasecca are exploring the potential for developing a supply chain of biocomposite materials made from the hemp plant in local clean-ups, as industrial hemp, as an excellent phytoremidian, has enormous potential to restore local soils. Eir Health says it is building Europe's first plant to produce 100% biodegradable PLA from hemp.

As more companies are turning to biopolymers as an alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics, some are looking at hemp as a potential source of biomass suitable for making biocomposite materials. However, how correct is the statement that a hemp plant can have a significant impact on the development of industries related to the production of bioplastics and how biocomposite materials made on the basis of hemp raw materials affect the products or goods that are stored in them, let's try to understand this material.

The versatility of hemp is well known, but another of its advantages is the fact that it is one of the fastest growing plants that do not require a significant amount of resources for cultivation (including water), which is already used in the production of about 50 thousand items of products.

The 2018 U.S. Agriculture Act changed the nation's federal policy to remove industrial hemp from the controlled substances regulatory framework, allowing the plant to be used as an agricultural raw material. This means that agricultural producers can legally grow the plant on an industrial scale, and the waste from the primary processing of cannabis-free cannabis is considered an ideal raw material for the production of biocomposite materials.

In fact, one of the first companies to use hemp-derived bioplastics for their products is Sana Packaging, a Californian company whose technologists have designed and manufactured hemp-based biocomposite packaging for their products. For its premium packaging, Sana Packaging uses a biocomposite composed of 30% micronized hemp fiber and 70% polylactic acid (PLA) sourced from plants such as corn and kenaf.

Sana Packaging co-founder James Eichner says the company was inspired to use hemp as a raw material for bioplastics because it has several advantages over corn, from which most biocomposite materials are derived. “In the time it takes to grow one corn crop, you can grow two hemp crops. The plant requires about a third of the amount of water that corn requires. In addition, the hemp plant protects the soil from sunlight and erosion - unlike corn, which leaves the soil unprotected. Hemp regenerates the soil, while corn depletes it, ”says Eichner.

It is also known that hemp, during its growth, absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can provide a cellulose content, which is important for bioplastics, at the level of 65-75%. The plant is also extremely dynamic in its harvest cycles thanks to its short harvest period of only three to four months.

Initially, Sana Packaging produced its hemp packaging in pilot projects, and then, when it was able to ensure a stable supply, began commercial production in 2019. At the moment, the only drawback of using hemp for packaging production, according to Mr. Eichner, is the poor supply chain of hemp raw materials - the cost of logistics is currently higher than that of other crops used for the production of biocomposite materials made from natural sources.

In turn, the CEO of another American company Hemp Plastics, Glen Keill, argues that hemp bioplastics “may be cheaper than some PLA, depending on what is used as the main material, but more expensive than the current cost of resin. made from fossil fuels ”. One of the main factors behind the small amount of hemp-based biocomposite materials is that polymerized plastic made from hemp raw materials is currently not readily available on the market. Mr. Keil says that “We are at an early stage in the development of this segment of cannabis production. This is inherently a revolutionary technology, the use of which is actively being researched around the world. These technologies are developing most rapidly in North America, where significant amounts of hemp raw materials are generated from the cultivation of plants used in the drug-free cannabinoid market. ” The company's technologists do not currently use 100% hemp-based plastic. They mix hemp ingredients with a variety of fossil fuel-based thermoplastics.

The leaders of both of the above companies believe that hemp raw materials can solve a number of environmental problems associated with the growth of the production of plastics or plastics, currently made from fossil raw materials, as well as in connection with the emergence of a significant amount of hemp waste.

Another American manufacturer of biocomposite materials based on the properties of hemp, C2Renew CEO Corey Crutch emphasizes that one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of this raw material for the production of biocomposite materials is the lack of infrastructure necessary for the normal existence of this market. “This is a chicken and egg scenario. Usually experiments start with a pilot project or a small investment in equipment, but the productivity of such a project is so low that the cost savings must be much higher in order for these technologies to be launched into mass production, ”he explains. 

Another challenge for financial investment in the industry may be that corn, the dominant feedstock for bioplastics in the United States, is heavily subsidized. Agricultural producers growing cash crops such as corn receive about 40% of their income through subsidies. Specifically, “Corn has been subsidized for a very long time and cannabis cannot compete with it until the modern cannabis industry achieves some economies of scale through its own natural growth, or until the hemp plant itself is subsidized, or until the corn will not stop being subsidized, ”says Eichner.

Commentary of the specialists of the Association "Ukrainian technical hemp"

The global industrial hemp market is projected to grow by an average of 13.7% between 2020 and 2025 and reach $ 12.98 billion / by 2025. By 2030, some analysts estimate that 40% of the plastics industry will be bioplastics.  

In Europe, where France is the predominant producer of industrial hemp, the packaging industry using this plant as a raw material is still in its infancy. For example, “ French hemp packaging ” is only in the early stages of development . Authorities in the Italian city of Roccasecca are exploring the potential for developing a supply chain of biocomposite materials derived from the hemp plant in local clean-ups, as industrial hemp, being an excellent phytoremidian, has enormous potential to restore local soils. Eir Health says it is building Europe's first plant to produce 100% biodegradable PLA from hemp.

During the training of 3 streams of students of the "Hemp University", a round table "Hemp raw materials - technologies for its use in construction, production of biocomposite materials and furniture" was held. Over the past few years, a number of national companies have actively developed in the direction of using hemp raw materials for the production of various types of packaging, including those used for storing food or cosmetic products made on a natural basis. During the round table “Problems and prospects of the use of therapeutically active elements of hemp as a basis for nutraceuticals, medicinal cosmetics, animal feed or other products with the healing properties of a plant”, which is being prepared for the listeners of the 6th stream of training of “Hemp University”, a separate presentation will be is devoted to studies that demonstrate how packaging materials made from hemp raw materials affect the shelf life and quality of products stored in such packaging.

"Конопляный Университет" будет проведен с 2 по 4 ноября 2021 года

Кроме традиционных мероприятий, предоставляющих слушателям максимально объективную информацию в самых востребованных на данный момент сегментах отрасли, будут проведены специализированные круглые столы: “Экспоненциальный рост рынка нетрадиционных терапевтически активных элементов конопли”, “Особенности культивирования конопляного растения на грунте, в теплице/помещении”, “Место Украины на современном рынке продукции из волокнистой части конопли”.

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