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Industry Talk

Reintroduction of industrial hemp is in full swing

The growing hemp industry will meet in Cologne, Germany, again this year, for the International Conference of the European Industrial Hemp Association.

6th June 2018

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Hürth

Construction, Medical/Hygiene, Interiors

The growing hemp industry will meet in Cologne, Germany, again this year, for the International Conference of the European Industrial Hemp Association, which takes place for the 15th time, from 12-13 June.

This year, around 350 participants from 40 countries are expected to take part in the event. The conference will discuss the latest developments from all areas of the hemp industry – from seeds to the end product, and 20 exhibitors will present their latest technologies and products.

Another highlight awaiting the participants of the conference is an innovation award for the Hemp Product of the Year, presented for the first time ever. Three products – each from the areas of food, cosmetics and biocomposites – will be recognised. Participants will select the winners per category based on a short introduction of the products. The award winners will then be announced during the dinner ceremony.

The international meeting place for the hemp industry is organised by the German nova-Institut in close cooperation with the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA). The day before the conference, EIHA will host expert workshops for members, meet representatives from Canada, USA and China and hold its assembly in the evening.

Industry decline

In the 17th century, at the heyday of sailing, hemp flourished in Europe and was an important agriculture crop. Almost all ship sails and almost all rigging, ropes, nets, flags up to the uniforms of the sailors were made of hemp due to the tear and wet strength of the fibre. Trade and warfare depended on hemp; 50 to 100 tonnes of hemp fibre were needed for the basic equipment of a ship and had to be replaced every one to two years. Until the 18th century hemp fibres, together with flax, nettle and wool, were the raw materials for the European textiles industry.

In competition with cheaper cotton and the decline of sailing shipping in the 19th century, the area under cultivation decreased continuously. With the development of the synthetic fibres in the 20th century, hemp no longer played a role in the post-war reconstruction and many countries banned cultivation due to its proximity to the sister plant marijuana.

Reintroduction of industrial hemp

The reintroduction of industrial hemp took place in Great Britain in 1990, a few years later in the Netherlands and Germany and finally throughout Europe. But after a short hype, the area under cultivation fell again to about 8,000 ha in 2011. “But then it really started,” says EIHA. “After 26,000 ha in 2015, 33,000 ha in 2016, the area under cultivation increased to about 43,000 ha last year. The growing areas are mainly driven by demand in the food sector.”

“Further momentum came with the launch of the non-psychotropic cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), which has mild calming and focusing effects. It is obtained from the leaves and flowers of hemp. Here, too, demand is high, but cannot be met sufficiently due to a patchwork of national regulations.”

Positive outlook

Hemp fibres are currently used in large quantities for lightweight construction in the automotive industry, in insulating materials and for thin, tear-resistant papers (cigarettes and bible papers). The shives, the woody part of the stem, are used as building material and animal litter.

“However, it is not only in Europe that industrial hemp enjoys considerable demand,” says EIHA. “Even before Europe, a dynamic hemp food industry with steady growth developed in Canada. In 2016, 34,000 ha of hemp were cultivated in Canada and in 2017 even the new record of 56,000 ha was achieved. This year the cultivation of industrial hemp will start in the USA, where an additional 50,000 hectares are expected in the next ten years.”

Also, in China, the mother country of industrial hemp, hemp is being reintroduced, especially for the textiles industry, in order to relieve cotton production. In the northeast of China, there are large programmes to introduce enzymatically treated hemp fibres into the textiles industry. The Chinese automotive industry also uses hemp fibres for lightweight construction.

“After hemp had almost completely disappeared after the Second World War and with the worldwide cannabis prohibition as a cultivated plant, today in Canada, China and the European Union about 150,000 hectares are cultivated again – within a few decades the limit of millions can be reached,” concludes EIHA.

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