The global hemp market has rapidly expanded during the past three years, and current projections see that trend continuing into the next decade.
Part of what makes hemp such an appealing crop to commercial farmers is the plant’s many uses. Hemp fibers make great raw materials for textiles. Hemp seeds, which are loaded with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, are often labeled a superfood. Plus, there’s the ever-expanding market for CBD derived from cannabinoid-rich hemp flower.
Even the leftover fragments of vegetal material from a hemp crop post-harvest can go to good use. It’s called hemp biomass, and it has a surprisingly varied amount of commercial applications.
What Is Hemp Biomass?
By definition, hemp biomass refers to the biological material leftover after a crop of hemp has been cultivated and the flower harvested. This typically includes the plant’s stalks, sugar leaves, stems, and seeds.
Sellers of hemp biomass can sort their product into one of two main categories depending on what kind of hemp plant the biomass comes from. CBD Biomass comes from hemp strains with high cannabinoid percentages, while fiber biomass comes from taller hemp plants that typically have smaller cannabinoid percentages. Both have commercial applications, albeit in different types of industries.
Is Hemp Biomass Legal In America?
For nearly a century, cannabis prohibition laws made hemp farming in the United States essentially impossible. However, that all changed three years ago. In 2018, congress passed the most recent iteration of the Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill has been around since FDR’s New Deal and was designed to help the American agricultural sector. To stay relevant to modern necessities, it expires every five years. This allows lawmakers to revise and amend the bill based on farmers’ current needs.
In 2018, the Farm Bill reintroduced the hemp plant into the agricultural economy by federally legalizing the plant. The bill defines hemp as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% delta 9 THC per dry weight, so as long the biomass in question comes from a low THC plant, it’s federally legal. However, each state has its own unique regulations and restrictions regarding hemp cultivation and sale.
Who Is Buying Hemp Biomass?
The hemp biomass market is somewhat oversaturated at the moment due to the massive influx of commercial hemp cultivators following the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, there are still many industrial manufacturers and hemp oil extractors who have a need for hemp biomass.
Hemp Biomass Uses
There are several different uses for hemp biomass.
The bulk of CBD or any other cannabinoid is concentrated in the flowering buds of the cannabis plant. However, other parts of the plant also contain trace amounts of CBD. Not enough that smoking a hemp stalk would have any sort of effect, mind you, but extractors can use solvents to separate these cannabinoids from large batches of hemp biomass and make CBD oils.
Once the CBD is extracted from the biomass, the material still isn’t necessarily trash. Currently, researchers are determining if there are spent hemp biomass uses in the vein of animal feed.
While not conducive to CBD oil manufacturing, Fiber biomass has other uses. After undergoing a retting process, manufacturers can transform the bast fibers into ropes, textiles, and even paper. The hemp hurd from the biomass can be used to make building materials and natural plastics.
Believe it or not, hemp biomass also has the potential to become an alternative fuel source. Sustainable fuel manufacturers can convert fermented hemp stalks into ethanol through a process called cellulolysis. Additionally, hemp biodiesel made from hemp seed oil could potentially reduce fossil fuels. It can power an unmodified diesel engine and is the only alternative fuel in the US to complete EPA Tier I Health Effects Testing under section 211(b) of the Clean Air Act.
In a world where a climate crisis seems inevitable, perhaps switching to hemp-based biofuel on mass may help us continue to sustain life on Earth for future generations.