Industrial hemp refers to the cannabis Sativa plant that is specifically grown for industrial use. The focus is on the use of hemp plant material, which is composed of the stalk, seeds, and leaves of the plant. Since hemp is a versatile plant, there are several different applications for hemp which range from clothing to building materials and biofuel.
For the hemp industry to thrive, processing technology is essential to result in high-value-added products. Those products range from beauty products to creams, to even biofuel.
Processing Industrial Hemp
The most versatile component of the hemp plant is the stalk as it can be made into rope, paper, building materials, and more. CBD extract also comes from the stalks and stems of the hemp plant through the process of CBD extraction & isolation which companies like Kalmex specialize in.
The processing equipment needed depends on the end product. The hemp stalks generally go through a decortication and retting process which is also known as degumming and involves the extraction of fiber bundles from the harvested stem. Hemp flowers, buds, and leaves go through a bucking and de-hulling to get the seeds. Bucking, also known as de-budding or destemming, refers to the process of removing the flower and leaves from the hemp plant’s stem.
Processing the Hemp Flower, Seed and Stalk
Finding the right timing to harvest for seed production can be difficult as the hemp seeds mature at different speeds. One of the challenges of hemp harvesting is to do it when there is the least risk of losing seeds. Bucking machines, which are also known as de-stemmers or de-budders, speed up the industrial hemp production process. The hemp flowers are cut for seed processing and the stalks get sorted for fiber processing. Hemp seeds need to be cleaned and dried properly before they can be stored. Conveyors are used to transfer the hemp seeds to prevent damage.
Today’s technology allows for hemp crop harvesting and processing to be done by machines with advanced equipment that can carefully separate the hemp fiber from the stalk. When separating the hemp fiber from the woody core, there are two approaches. It can be done mechanically through decortication or by the retting process which refers to the process of separating the fiber from the rest of the plant. This is crucial for ensuring the quality of the fiber that is produced. Some retting methods include dew retting, water retting, warm water retting, green retting, and chemical retting. After the decortication process is complete, the fiber is scutched and hackled. Scutching is when the hemp gets prepared for spinning and separates the impurities from the raw material. Hackling removes the hurd particles and any broken fibers.
Hemp Seed Processing Equipment
De-hulling is used to process hemp seed and involves a shelling machine that removes the outer shell. The machine that issued for hemp seed shelling consists of an input hopper, spiral elevator, and a de-hulling and separating unit. This process removes the seed’s crunchy skiing and cleans it of hull residues. Once the seed has been separated from the shell, the shells are discarded. When harvesting seed, a farmer’s preferred method is straight combining as the combine header is positioned high enough to cut the crop below the seed head which minimizes the amount of fiber that makes its way into the combine. When moving the hemp seeds, they need to be handled gently as they can be damaged easily. A gentle conveyor system is crucial to ensure the hemp seeds are transferred safely between each phase of the processing.
How to maintain quality during hemp processing
When hemp is dried and cleaned efficiently, there is less risk of damage and loss of product. If the hemp is not dried quickly or is harvested too wet, it may become contaminated with bacteria or fungi. Hemp needs adequate ventilation otherwise the harvest may spoil. A cable conveyor and tubular drag conveyor system are crucial to yield the highest quality hemp seeds and fibers as they are the gentle, clean, and cost-effective way to move materials around a hemp production facility. The processing environment should be dust and contamination-free.
Hemp Fiber Processing Equipment
The best destemming equipment won’t pull or pop the hemp flowers. When the flowers are cut in a gentle manner, there’s a small risk that the large crown buds will break into small pieces. During the bucking phase, the goal is to keep the buds intact. Since hemp decortication makes up a large portion of the processing requirements for hemp fiber processing, companies like Trichome Agronomy need cutting-edge technology that can streamline the decortication process. High-quality decorticator systems use a reactor that moves hemp stalks through the machine to efficiently separate the hemp into pulp. A good decorticator system can process large quantities of hemp per hour and are designed to process the hemp into a variety of different products. A hammermill separates the plant’s hurd from the bast fiber. Once the bast fiber has been separated, it is then cleaned, carded, refined, and cut to size. Once this is complete, the fibers are then pressed tightly and prepared for baling.
Trichome Ag is building one of Canada’s first GMP compliant, state of the art hemp flower biomass processing facilities in Newton, Manitoba. Their proprietary 9-stage hemp flower processing platform is optimized for any type of CBD extraction and isolation. The industrial-scale 8,000 sq. ft. facility is capable of processing 30,000+ acres annually.