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Alberta Seeks New Use For Hemp

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
$2.25-Million Research Project Hopes To Blend Plant Fibres With Plastics

For centuries, humans have found practical uses for hemp, weaving it into items such as rope and clothing. Now the Alberta Research Council wants to tighten those bonds by determining more cutting-edge uses for this versatile plant.

A new two-year, $2.25-million project hopes to find ways to blend Albertagrown hemp fibres with locally produced plastics to create more sustainable materials.

The research council is well placed to do this work because it has spent the last decade working on biofibres and bioindustrial products, said John Wolodko, the council's biocomposite program leader.

Similar research has been done in Europe, where hemp fibres are integrated into items such as automobile panels. But all the questions haven't been answered yet. The council's research will determine the best ways to use and blend Alberta hemp with plastics, Wolodko said.

Along with funding from the Alberta government, the council is partnered with AT Plastics, which is supplying material and expertise.

Ultimately, the company hopes the project will open up another market for their products, said Larry Vande Griend, polymers technology manager.

Naturally Advanced Technologies, a Vancouver-based company, is also on board. The company has a subsidiary that wants to provide biocomposites for higher-end use in the automotive, marine and aerospace industries, said Jason Finnis, chief operating officer.

Finnis said he believes these biocomposites can be expanded to car hoods from their main current use as the inside panels of car doors.

Finnis and Wolodko say hemp is strong. Other advantages over the glass fibres now used to strengthen plastic are that it's light, can be cheaper to make and its production results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The council will look at how much hemp to blend with the plastic, what length of fibres to use, and how different types of hemp plants, called cultivars, affect the product.

Wolodko said the council grows its own hemp in test plots at its Vegreville facilities.

Industrial hemp is different from the plant used to produce marijuana. It can't be smoked to get high because it contains little of the psychoactive ingredient, THC.

In 2006, only 2,000 hectares of hemp were grown in Alberta. That's more than in the United States, where there's still a ban on growing industrial hemp, a situation Wolodko calls "ridiculous."

"Europe is leading the way and we're trying to follow."

Farmers are reluctant to grow it because they don't think there's a market, while manufacturers are wary of using it because they don't know its full potential and don't think the supply is sufficient, he said.

Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 The Edmonton Journal
Contact: letters@thejournal.canwest.com
Website: canada.com
 
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