The first stage of an ambitious ten-year roadmap designed to boost the production and processing of industrial hemp across the UK has won government backing.
The HEMP-30 project, led by researchers at the University of York and Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC), home to BioVale), aims to increase the amount of industrial hemp 100-fold in the UK from 800 hectares to 80,000 hectares establishing industrial hemp as a major UK crop.
The first development phase of the project has been awarded £200,000 from the UK government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, funded through the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. The BEIS programme aims to accelerate the commercialisation of innovative clean energy technologies and processes.
HEMP-30 aligns with the University’s ambition to harness its biotechnology expertise for green, inclusive growth as part of the BioYorkshire programme.
Industrial hemp is traditionally used in textiles, animal bedding and mattress filling, but increasingly manufacturers are exploring its potential in markets such as food, fuel, construction and pharmaceuticals.
“Hemp has major untapped potential as a versatile low carbon raw material that can be used across a range of industries,” explained BDC Director Dr Joe Ross. “It offers environmental benefits as a fast-growing ‘break’ crop that improves soil health and is very efficient at capturing carbon.
“But it also offers major economic benefits as a potential source of bioplastics, insulation and building materials including hempcrete. It can also be used in interior panels in the automotive and aerospace industries.”
Professor Ian Graham from the University’s Department of Biology said the project underlines York’s commitment to use its research expertise to support the shift from oil-based to bio-based products and processes.
He said: “Under the banner of our BioYorkshire programme, we aim to accelerate the translation and application of our research discoveries into full-scale industrial applications.
“The HEMP-30 project is an outstanding example of that translation from the lab to bio-based applications, opening up new markets for farmers, supporting the development of high value, skilled jobs while addressing the need for low carbon industrial products.”
The project will draw on the University’s world-leading expertise in molecular plant breeding technology to fast track improvement of hemp traits to meet the needs of developing markets. Researchers will target traits such as biomass yield, fibre quality and drought resistance to produce varieties of hemp that are best suited to UK growing conditions.
It will also develop a UK-wide communication plan to share best practice in farming and processing hemp while setting out how a significantly expanded hemp breeding, farming, processing and production industry could be established in the UK.
Consultancies Lucid and Kepier & Company Limited will work with the University on the HEMP-30 project.
Energy Minister Lord Callanan said: “Working to develop new and greener types of fuel like biomass is an important part of building the diverse and green energy mix that we will need to achieve our climate change targets.
“We are backing UK innovators to ensure we have a homegrown supply of biomass materials, which is part of our wider plans to continue driving down carbon emissions as we build back greener.”