A Vegreville research centre is on the cutting edge of a booming Canadian hemp industry one scientist predicts will be worth $1 billion annually within a few years.
That’s roughly five times the industrial hemp industry’s current approximately $200-million value, but InnoTech Alberta’s Jan Slaski says the business is poised to become larger.
His office is already crammed with such hemp items as insulated construction blocks; erosion control mats; lightweight, dent-resistant car parts; and a longboard made from a fibreglass-like bio-composite, not to mention beer, granola and Grande Prairie’s Stoked Vodka.
“It’s a multi-purpose crop that each and every part of can be used. The best part is everybody along the value chain can make money,” Slaski, team lead in crop development and management for the Alberta Innovates subsidiary, said Wednesday during a tour of the operation 100 km east of Edmonton.
“I think within a year or two, maximum, we will see major commercial facilities in Alberta … We’re the hub of hemp fibre in Canada.”
Raising industrial hemp was forbidden in the country until 1998 because of concerns the plants contains THC, the psychoactive drug in marijuana, but the roughly two dozen varieties now grown under licence from Health Canada can’t contain more than a tiny 0.3 per cent of the compound.
Slaski estimates it would require a choking, possibly toxic, joint one metre long to produce the same amount of THC as one normal blunt.
The number of hemp hectares sown across Canada has fluctuated over the years, reaching a high of 44,000 in 2014 before dropping to 31,000 last year as farmers and processors looked for markets.
That figure could skyrocket to 50,000 hectares this year, Slaski said.
The crop has been primarily grown for seeds and flowers made into cosmetics and oil, hemp hearts, granola, drinks and other edibles, making Canada the world’s largest hemp food producer and exporter.
He proudly shows off fields in which he’s growing 14 types of hemp, from short plants with easy-to-harvest seeds to tall ones used for their stalks.
“We’re bringing this diversification for economic benefits and good land stewardship. It’s very unhealthy for soil to grow the same crop over and over again.”
In addition to researching plant breeding and processing, Slaski and his team of 17 are helping develop products using the stalk’s tough fibres at a processing facility that allows companies to test their equipment and their ideas, a setup he said is the most comprehensive in North America.
This work could have big benefits for Alberta, which in 2016 grew more hemp than any other province.
A Quebec uniform company is interested in building an Alberta hemp processing plant to make material for jeans, First Nations are exploring a plan to grow hemp for housing materials, and the operators of a Chinese textile firm Slaski visited last week are looking at investing $100 million in Canada.
Slaski, who has been studying hemp for the provincially owned corporation for 16 years, sees an even brighter future if Health Canada relaxes regulations preventing the use of leaves and other chaff containing non-narcotic cannabinoids that can be turned into medicinal products.
That would allow producers to sell the entire plant for different uses, making it even more profitable.
“At present, hemp is developing really fast, but with whole-crop utilization hopefully … the value chain of this crop will be even greater,” he said.
“In three to five years I’m looking, personally, at a $1-billion industry that will be benefitting the people of Alberta and Canada.”
Wood scientist Solace Sam-Brew envisions a future where Canadian homes are furnished with products made from flax and hemp.
“Both flax and hemp are widely available in Canada, especially in the West,” said Sam-Brew, a recent PhD graduate from the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry. “It’s worth considering their viability as alternative raw materials to wood for particleboard production.”
Particleboards are used in products like countertops, shelves and flat-packed furniture. For her PhD, supervised by professor Gregory Smith, Sam-Brew evaluated the characteristics of flax and hemp residues. She determined their physical and mechanical board properties by soaking and breaking hundreds of particleboards to test their strength and durability.
While Sam-Brew found flax and hemp residues were technically better, she hit one snag. The current economics of manufacturing flax and hemp particleboards in Canada are too high for it to flourish as a competitive material.
“The resin, or glue, needed to produce flax and hemp particleboard is a financial barrier,” she said. Resin holds the particles in the board together and flax and hemp products use expensive resin, called pMDI, as the substitute for cheap urea-formaldehyde.
Sam-Brew was able to show in her PhD research that the amount of resin needed for flax and hemp particleboards could be reduced, which would help lower the cost. Substituting lignin, a plant binder, for a portion of the pMDI resin, could also reduce the cost.
According to Sam-Brew, a burgeoning niche market for flax and hemp particleboards exists in Europe. Decades of flax and hemp processing there and the number of companies in business have led to more competitive pricing.
Sam-Brew said the business case for a similar industry in Canada lies in a facility willing to take a chance on the sustainable alternative considering the growing competition for wood residue. Wood residue is wood waste from sawmills and joinery manufacturers, like wood chips, shavings, sawdust and trims, all highly sought after for use by multiple industries, including biofuel, pellet, pulp and paper.
“They’re all fighting over one resource, which can sometimes be in short supply,” said Sam-Brew. “If a company has to travel long distances to collect the wood waste they need to make their products, that costs them money. The particleboard industry could benefit from using non-wood resources if the price is right.”
For now, flax and hemp particleboard production is at a standstill in Canada. But Sam-Brew remains optimistic.
“Flax and hemp particleboards are lighter than wood,” she said. “The downstream impacts of making a lighter product could mean faster production rates and significant energy and transportation savings.”
“The economics don’t look good now, but they could later.”
Naturally Splendid to present CBD Product Line in Japan
February 23, 2017
Naturally Splendid Enterprises, a member of CHTA, will be presenting a wide range of food products at FOODEX JAPAN, the largest annual food and beverage trade show in Asia.
Naturally Splendid will be presenting with Eat Real Snack Foods at JAPAN FOODEX who are participating as Canadian Delegates in the Canadian Pavilion. Naturally Splendid recently completed an acquisition of a comprehensive state-of–the-art packaging line from Eat Real Snack Foods and continues to develop business opportunities between the Companies. JAPAN FOODEX is indicative of the potential synergies between the companies.
According to Agriculture and Agri Food Canada :
- Japanese packaged food sales were valued at US$158 billion in 2015, and are anticipated to reach US$164.2 billion by 2020.
- Japanese consumers are renowned for placing enormous importance on consuming food that is both safe and of high-quality, and they perceive Canada as a country that produces food with these characteristics. Japan is a trendsetter in many areas, and it can be a very useful gateway to other markets within Asia.