Developers race to meet demand for cannabis-specific technologies
Solutions for harvesting and processing the entire cannabis plant are in high demand as inventors, engineers and other assorted tinkerers work feverishly to develop breakthrough technologies and machines for small and large cannabis-centric operations.
That was the general conclusion of 30 industry leaders from 14 countries who gathered to discuss the global state of cannabis machinery and technology at the recent Micro Summit held at the HempToday International Center of Excellence in Poland .
“With the cannabis market in a historic growth phase and the push for multi-crop cultivation, the lack of mechanization is an issue because for agriculture and many products, cannabis requires plant-specific solutions,” said Kehrt Reyher, editor and publisher of HempToday. “There is a huge demand for effective and affordable technology, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.”
“Trivalenza” from Italy
The focus on whole-plant development was best demonstrated during the summit by a presentation by veteran Italian developer Valerio Zucchini, Zucchini Consulting & Trading, who introduced a suite of machines for what his company calls “Trivalenza,” a multi-crop strategy that produces biomass for extraction; hemp seed oil; food and feed; and straw and fiber.
Zucchini has been working with natural fibers and hemp for about 20 years, and in recent years he has turned his attention to creating technology to simplify the agricultural work of harvesting and collecting crops. His company emphasizes solutions for small and medium-sized farming operations – common in many parts of Europe and in other parts of the world.
Zucchini previously developed production systems for hemp, flax and cellulose, used to make insulation for the construction and automotive industries.
Harvesting seeds and fibers
Multi-cropping was also the purpose of the Hempseed Harvester from Swath developed by German fiber processor Hanffaser Uckermark and presented during the summit by Marijn Roersch van der Hoogte, developer of the consulting firm MR Hemp. The machine collects cannabis seeds from already cut cannabis plants, providing a harvest of high quality fibers and seeds.
The technology solves the problem of long seed maturation times with high quality cannabis fibers from fibrous cannabis varieties. This relatively inexpensive system, made from parts of other machines, leaves more organic material in the field and produces a more uniform bale – with a higher percentage of fiber per ton.
Rafael Dulon, CEO of HANF Farm GmbH in Germany, told delegates that there is still a need to further develop innovative harvesting technology – for taller varieties; to precisely separate selected parts of the plant; and to make multiple cuts as the plant grows.
He is the developer of this multi-cutting machine, the industrial-scale Multi-Combine HC 3400 cannabis harvester (film) that allows the top height of plants to be trimmed multiple times during the annual vegetation period by adjusting the plant lift system. The technology has been successfully deployed in field operations at HANF farms for the past three years.
Going to the top
Delegates were also given a preview of a virtual model of the 2019 prototype cannabis combine from Hemp Harvester (HHH) in Henley, Germany. Developed by company founder and electrical engineer Heinrich Wieker, the harvester is a field technology that cuts the plant at ground level, then strips the buds and transports them to the bunker; the straw is dried in the field for later disposal.
The latest vision for the harvester, which has been in development for three years, is a modular system with a maximum cutting width of 2.70 meters, depending on the number of harvester modules deployed.
Wieker is also developing an electric stationary stripper for continuous manual or semi-automatic feeding. Tests in Switzerland harvesting Finola, USO-31, Fedora and CBD cannabis have produced over 100 kg per hour of virgin stemless flowers. The technology can also be used for medicinal or recreational cannabis.
Between the farm and the future, other featured speakers at the summit provided progress reports on other technologies.
Industrial Scale Garnish
Robert Ziner, founder and CEO of Industrial Hemp Canada, updated the Smart Stalk Systems Summit on his project to develop a network of low-cost, high-volume cannabis debarking plants with automated quality control.
The artificial intelligence-driven system combines debarking directly with the production of secondary products to increase gross margins. ziner said the system will reduce the unit cost of debarking by more than 45 percent. the Smart Stalk system is patent-pending and is designed to focus on productivity and production flexibility to maximize the added value of the input sticks.
Ziner also said engineered biopellets can be used as thermoplastic feedstock for plastic building products such as windows, doors, siding, extrusions and decorative panels.
At the other end of the debarking market, Kristaps Eglitis of Latvian Industrial Hemp showed off his HurdMaster micro debarker. Suitable for small agricultural and processing operations as well as CBD producers looking to utilize leftover stalks, the machine produces hurd that can be used for hemp concrete structures, animal bedding and animal waste or plant bedding.
Small enough to fit in the back of a utility vehicle, van or small truck, the HurdMaster is the result of three years of research and development by Eglitis, a metal craftsman.
With the help of other technologies, the bast fibers separated by the HurdMaster can be further processed for a wide range of applications.
Development of Extraction
wu, CEO of careddi Extraction Systems Inc. in nanjing, china talks about his company’s process of designing and building industrial-scale CO2 technology that is not only faster and more efficient than ethanol, butane or steam, but also automatically separates terpenes, oils and waxes in an intermediate process – a major advance. The IES-designed technology extracts compounds from cannabis and other raw materials through its CO2-based extraction process.
Ap Verhoef of South Africa’s Botanical Extraction Enterprise (BEE) demonstrated his company’s ethanol-based system that complements the dynamism of extraction technology development.BEE’s extraction ensembles are priced at less than $100,000, making industrial-scale extraction possible for companies large and small.Verhoef presented to the summit his four years of work refining methods and developing equipment.
A non-healthy application for CBD?
Looking ahead, Canadian inventor Carl Martel spoke about the potential for building integrated energy storage capacity using hemp plant material; and the potential of hemp material in battery, supercapacitor and photovoltaic technologies. Martel told the summit that plant carbon produced through carbonization will play a critical role in the future of electrochemical technology.
An independent scientist who has been working on industrial hemp since 2010, Martell is the co-inventor of a grain sterilization system deployed in Canada and Australia. While continuing to develop post-harvest management systems for grains, he has recently turned his attention to value-added products from agricultural waste, such as carbon foam for insulation, water filtration and desalination, and energy storage.
Martell made a rather surprising discovery during the summit: He discovered that under alkaline conditions and in the presence of air, CBD oxidizes to quinone, an organic compound that, when combined with graphite, can act as a “green battery.
Finally, summit delegates were given an overview of the Hemp Factory, a solar-powered hemp processing facility that recently opened in Germany, located in Borken, near the German-Dutch border, and is the largest hemp food manufacturer in Central Europe. The development of the facility was guided by HempConsult GmbH, a Düsseldorf-based consulting firm for the cannabis industry.
The new plant produces hemp food products for the processing industry, with 95 percent of the output certified organic and the rest conventional. In addition to shelled hemp seeds, the hemp plant’s services include the extraction of hemp oil through cold pressing and the production of hemp powder, hemp protein and hemp dietary fiber.
Another line produces feeds, feed concentrates and feed oils for the animal feed industry and supplies livestock businesses with high quality feed concentrates from by-products such as oil, oil cake and coarse meal.