Ok, I might have made that up. But you have to admit, it makes sense. If we go by that definition, how useful do you think hemp is?
You heard it correctly. From the leaves down to the roots, every part of the hemp plant has a plethora of uses. Hemp is truly a blessing on humanity that keeps giving.
And what’s even more amazing? Hemp fiber can be used to make composites.
Hemp composites are created by combining hemp fibers with thermoplastic, thermoset, and biodegradable matrices. It results in more robust materials with varied mechanical properties. Hemp fiber composites find extensive use in the automotive and construction industry.
It is similar to what Henry Ford used to construct his hemp car back in 1941! The car ran on hemp-ethanol. Its panels, composed of 70% cellulose fibers, had ten times stronger impact strength compared to steel. That’s how ground-breaking hemp composite technology is!
If that was almost 80 years ago, you must be wondering how far hemp composite research has advanced today. No need to imagine. Let me give you facts instead.
In the following list, I have procured five phenomenal research institutes leading the way in hemp composite research. So no more stalling. Let’s get some insight into hemp composites.
This research is led under the Thomas Jefferson University. The Jefferson hemp initiative is guided by Dr. Ronald Kander.
The spectrum of their research is quite intriguing. Jefferson researchers are studying the use of cannabis in sickle cell disease, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), killing bacteria, spinal cord injury, and headache disorders, to name a few. They conduct research studies on industrial applications of hemp composites as well.
The Jefferson research initiative started in 2017 with four objectives—advancement of basic scientific knowledge about hemp and its components; exploration of areas where hemp could be used as a cheaper or more effective raw material for existing products; conception and creation of novel products; and definition of markets and sustainable supply chains for those products.
The Jefferson hemp program has mainly two facets:
- Manufactured Industrial Products
Focused on exploration and application of hemp’s absorptive, antimicrobial, electrical, and mechanical characteristics. It will be used to develop an array of high-performance manufactured products.
Practical examples are, hospital gowns and working surfaces that are resistant to staph infection and the MRSA virus; lighter, more durable yoga mats and blocks; kitchen surfacing that leverages hemp’s antimicrobial qualities; dog-calming chew toys made of CBD oil-infused hemp hurd; biodegradable 3D-printed seed starters, and so on.
- Biomedical Products
This research concentrates on the use of cannabinoid-based therapies. In this process, physical health, cognitive function, quality of life, and day-to-day function of the study groups are monitored. Patients’ perspectives, experiences, and knowledge of cannabis are also addressed.
Cannabis here refers to the core compound of all plants in this family. That is, cannabinoids. This study aims to provide evidence-backed information on medical uses of cannabinoid-based products to clinicians and patients. l have already mentioned the intriguing medicinal applications of cannabidiol in disease research. This promises a fascinating juncture of nature and science.
This is a trans-disciplinary academic research program. The Jefferson hemp research initiative is looking into the use of industrial hemp as a biomaterial. This will support the growing agricultural and manufacturing industry in the U. S. And to do that, they will need your support.
In June 2016, the Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) was established. It was the outcome of an innovative partnership between Colorado State University-Pueblo, the state of Colorado, and Pueblo County. A brief digression on the meaning of “cannabis” is required here.
Cannabis sativa and cannabis indica are the two varieties of cannabis. Marijuana comes from both cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. But hemp belongs solely to the cannabis sativa family. Since the ICR is an institution based on extensive cannabis research, it focuses on both marijuana and hemp studies. For this segment, we shall focus solely on the hemp composite research studies done by the ICR.
Take the applications of industrial hemp for example.
Dr. Brian Vanden Heuvel is conducting this monumental research. The study on the applications of industrial hemp builds on 18 months of previous research achievements by the ICR. This project aims to extend that knowledge to applied projects.
This research proposal specifically enquires into the possibility of the following :
- Using industrial hemp as a remediation tool for metals and metalloids from soil and municipal sewage sludge. This can prevent considerable environmental damage.
- Scaling up cannabinoid extraction methods to industrial volumes. These methods were developed in previous ICR hemp composite research projects.
- Waste products from industrial hemp production (stems/leaves) as a reliable source of important biopolymers.
- Recently sequenced genomes for industrial hemp by ICR, as a framework for continued research. A look into what genes are turned on and off during different growth stages. These genes affect important traits like disease resistance, drought intolerance, yield, specific concentrations of CBCs, THC, or other secondary chemicals.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) releases vast collections of hemp research initiatives every fiscal year. All the information is recorded on their website. They are one of the first-rate research institutes working on hemp composites today. So keep an eye out if you want to stay informed.
This hemp research project is just as fascinating as it sounds. It aims to use hemp reinforced composites in space! This implies human and robotic exploration, long-distance transportation, climate change, environment monitoring, disaster prevention, advanced telecommunication, and geo-localization.
Some brilliant mechanical engineering students of Lafayette College are carrying out this project. They are guided by Dr. R. Koh. Funded by the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, this study aims to utilize the advantages of PFRPs in aerospace applications.
Now what are PRFPs and how can they be used in space? Let me clear your doubts.
PRFPs are plant-fiber reinforced polymers that offer environmental benefits. They are renewable, biodegradable, and require low processing energy. Most importantly, PRFPs have three to four times lower density than glass and carbon fibers, which makes them ideal for space applications. And hemp is the fiber of choice for this project.
The mechanical properties of hemp reinforced composite materials made from Pennsylvania hemp are characterized in this project, with three main objectives. We’ll take a brief glance:
- Developing a laboratory-scale manufacturing process for making hemp-reinforced polymer composites. This will be done at Lafayette College. If accomplished, it would stand proof of the sustainability of the laboratory. Managing all the processes locally is crucial for that.
- Testing the manufactured composite for its mechanical properties. This involves tensile, compressive, and shear strength and stiffness. The collected data will be used to create a public database. It will be published on their website.
- Conducting a parametric study of factors hypothesized to affect the mechanical properties of the composite. These factors would be judged on the basis of plant fiber properties, yarn properties, and composite properties.
This hemp fiber research initiative is futuristic. Fueled by a team of driven, young researchers they can achieve towering heights of innovation with hemp. I can safely claim this to be the 21st-century equivalent of Henry Ford’s 1941 hemp car experiment. Their innovation and creativity are at that level.
This project aims to optimize the hemp production process. Hemp cultivated by this process is to be exclusively used for producing high-performance hemp composites. The researchers will look into ways of making this possible.
The research was conducted by Salvatore Musio, Jörg Müssig, and Stefano Amaducci from three different Italian and German universities. It was published in 2018 by Frontiers in Plant Science. It is an open-access science and publishing platform.
This initiative was undertaken as a reaction to the stagnating European hemp fiber market. It would support the sustainable growth of the market, optimization of agronomic techniques, genotypes, and post-harvest processing. Resulting in the preservation of fiber quality. And enabling industrial processing and maintaining; fiber applications; and improving high-value applications.
Some of the key findings of this study are given as follows:
- Yellow stem varieties of hemp have higher fiber extraction efficiency than conventional green stem ones. This is because of higher bast fiber content.
- If stem harvesting is delayed until seed maturity it can pose serious issues. Stem processability and fiber quality can degrade.
- The fibers’ strength and stiffness are higher at the full flowering stage than the seed maturity stage.
- The hemp fiber obtained at seed maturity is used in lower value applications. Not always, but in most cases. Paper and pulp production and fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites are some examples.
- The fineness of hackled fiber bundles is not affected by the retting treatment and harvest time. But it depends on the genotype. Hackled fibers were the finest in the yellow variety of hemp fiber.
- Long hemp fiber bundles, with properties comparable to flax, proved suitable for high-performance composites applications. These results were underscored for yellow varieties. They had the highest decortication efficiency.
This research has been momentous enough to receive funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. So hopefully, you can gauge the gravity of this study.
This is a rather modest hemp composite research and design initiative, under the University of Rochester. “Modest”, in the sense of available online information. It is intriguing nonetheless. The project was executed by a team of four researchers, supervised by chemical engineer F. Doug Kelley.
Taking cognizance of the fact that hemp is widely available yet criminally under-utilized, this initiative aimed to explore hemp-epoxy composites. Hemp-epoxy composites find extensive use in the automotive industry. Although they are not limited to that industry alone.
There were two pieces to this puzzle. Researchers needed to experiment with different weave patterns and curing methods. The first composite was made via the compression method. And they relied on the vacuum bagging method for the early curing stages of this composite.
Their focus was two-fold as well. They wanted to optimize the process of making composites that would be both high-quality and have superior structural integrity. They succeeded in this initiative.
This is an invention that calls for additional testing of material and mechanical properties. This hemp-epoxy composite could find implementation in the industrial and commercial fields if it falls into the right hands. It is a fruit of hard work, ready to be tasted.
Hemp Science Is The Future
No matter how amazing and talented a person is, there is only so much they can achieve alone. Put a few of such people together, and miracles can happen. If we extend this metaphor to hemp, you’ll know why hemp science and research are so crucial today.
Hemp is a great plant in itself. Single-handedly it can lessen the impact of global warming and pollution. But imagine what it can do when combined with other materials. Hemp composites might save the world!
To make that possible, you and I need to come together and support these innovative hemp fiber research initiatives propping up now and then. And we need to make this process more frequent and faster. A healthy curiosity about such projects, beginning with this article, can be the first step.
The future of the world is in your hands.