Hemp: a raw material at reduced cost and respectful of the environment
Natural fibers have long been used successfully in insulation and construction materials, but are also used to reinforce composite materials for aeronautics and automobiles. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering in Potsdam-Bornim (ATB) as well as the Technical University (TU) in Dresden want to develop and patent hemp processing processes with high energy efficiency and low cost. On March 26, 2007, a pilot plant was put into operation in Potsdam.
With this new installation, the aim is to show that it is possible to halve the cost of processing agricultural hemp compared to the usual processes. For this, it is no longer the whole plant which is dried in the air after cutting but it is crushed at the time of harvest, then stored in silos to then be transformed into various by-products.
Hemp can supplement, up to a third, other fibrous raw materials (wood, straw, etc.). Thus by adding 1100 tonnes of hemp (150 hectares of cultivation) to 5000 tonnes of other natural fibers, we obtain an insulation of 170.000 square meters, 10cm thick. Another advantage: the whole plant can be used, there is no waste. On the other hand, the manufacture of insulation from natural fibers is much less energy intensive than that of other insulation materials. In addition, the finished product being lighter, transport will require less fuel. Finally, this technology paves the way for a new source of income for agriculture, as hemp production and processing can both be carried out in a decentralized manner in rural areas.
This pilot installation was funded to the tune of € 1 million by the EU. The German government as well as the Land of Brandenburg also participated with an investment of 172.000 euros each.
Source: BE Germany
Hemp bites on the plastics market
Hemp, traditionally used in the manufacture of paper or animal litter, is found more and more in the building industry or in the plastics industry. It is gradually taking the place of traditional plastics thanks to a structure set up by Chanvrière de l'Aube, the leading European producer.
Fibers, Recherche, Développement (FRD), created in early 2008 in the Troyes technopole, is a research company dedicated to the valorization of plant fiber agro-materials (hemp, flax, wood, etc.).
It aims to be the scientific intermediary between hemp producers and industry.
In recent years, the building industry has recognized the virtues of the plant: on the one hand, the fiber transformed into hemp wool has attracted visitors with its thermal and sound insulation capacities; on the other hand, chènevotte, mixed with lime, produces lightweight concrete which is also very insulating and has a much more favorable carbon footprint than traditional concrete.
But it is in the plastics industry that the future is weaving for hemp. The injection of fibers into thermoplastic and thermosetting materials to replace fiberglass is developing more and more, particularly in the automotive industry. Almost 30% plant fibers in the cooling propellers, rear screens, expansion tank caps or battery supports make them, for equal performance, lighter and therefore more energy efficient and much more easily recyclable.
According to Mr. Savourat, president of FRD and Chanvrière de l'Aube, many other applications, particularly in aeronautics, connectors or sports materials are expected.