Hemp fiber is a stronger, more productive and more sustainable alternative to wheat and other food crops in ethanol production, cotton and other fibers in textile production, and petroleum-based polymers in plastic production.
HEMP FIBER USES
The cellulose in hemp fiber can be converted to ethanol through a process known as cellulolysis, which consists of pretreating hemp fiber to make it suitable for hydrolysis, breaking down the cellulose into sugars using an enzyme called cellulase that converts the cellulose into glucose, separating the glucose from the lignin, fermenting the sugar solution and then distilling the sugar solution to extract ethanol using molecular sieves that increase ethanol concentration. Hemp ethanol has the same functionality as biodiesel for transportation uses. Also, avoiding food crops as a source of ethanol makes food production more efficient. Although the cellulose in hemp hurd can also be used to produce ethanol, the cellulose content in hemp fiber (57-77%) is higher than that of hemp hurd (40-48%) and the hemicellulose content (9-14%) and lignin content (5-9%) in hemp fiber are lower than those in hemp hurd (18-24% and 21-24%, respectively), meaning that boty hurd and fiber can be used for ethanol production, fiber generates a higher yield and requires less separation compared to hurd
Hemp fiber is stronger, more durable, provides better insulation and retains its shape better than cotton, yet producing a pound of cotton fabric requires 3 times more land, 10 times more water to grow, 4 times more water to process compared to a pound of hemp fabric. Growing cotton for a pound of fabric also requires over half a pound of harmful chemicals, which is the not case for hemp fabric. In fact, seven of the 15 pesticides used in cotton in the United States are listed as “possible” or “likely” or “probable” or “known” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency and, according to the Agricultural Resource Center, cotton defoliants are among the most toxic farm chemicals currently on the market.
The cellulose content in hemp fiber (57-77%) can also be used to produce bioplastic, a biodegradable alternative to fossil fuel plastic, without having to significantly alter or replace equipment and infrastructure used to produce petroleum-based polymers. In the United States, petroleum plastic production consumes over 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas plus another 300 million barrels of natural gas liquids and liquid petroleum gas every year. More importantly, petroleum plastics are not biodegradable. It can take up to 1,000 years for plastic products to decompose in the natural environment. By contrast, hemp plastic can take as little as 3 months to decompose in the right environment when made with biodegradable polymers. Bioplastic currently represents less than half a percent of the global polymer market of over 500 million tons, 80% of which is not being recycled and ends up in landfills or as litter in the natural environment. According to a market study by Grand View Research, the global bioplastics market size was valued at $8.3 billion in 2019 and is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.1% from 2020 to 2027, achieving an estimated market value of $26 billion by 2027.