With Israel as Partner, Africa can Turn Cannabis Into an Economic Game Changer

With Israel as Partner, Africa can Turn Cannabis Into an Economic Game Changer

It’s a fast-growing business with vast domestic potential across the continent, and our advanced know-how can help make it happen.

Africa is asserting itself as a high-potential emerging region for large-scale cannabis grow operations. With South Africa leading the continent’s entry into the market along with the Kingdom of Lesotho and Zimbabwe, savvy investors are jockeying for position. But the future health of the African cannabis industry faces several challenges: maintaining consistent, sustainable product quality, overcoming regulatory uncertainty and promoting social justice are long-term considerations that should inform current decisions.

The African Legal Cannabis Landscape

South Africa began licensing the production and export of medical cannabis in 2018 and is expected to become a global frontrunner in the industry. The South African Supreme Court’s decriminalization of cannabis for personal recreational use in September further propelled the country’s entry into the market.

According to a recent UN survey, more than 10,000 tons of cannabis are produced in Africa each year. With abundant land, an experienced labour force and climates conducive to cannabis cultivation, if legitimized, cannabis could contribute to a continent-wide economic uptick.

While Africa is eyeing global cannabis export, local markets are also of interest. The continent’s unregulated market is estimated to be upwards of $10 billion. According to Prohibition Partners, five of the world’s top 30 countries for cannabis prevalence among adult populations are in Africa. Nigeria alone has 20 million cannabis consumers. This translates to the potential for legal cannabis to generate an economic surge for African nations that have been historically disadvantaged and exploited.

The potential for cannabis to usher prosperity has induced many African countries to weigh regulatory changes. The Kingdom of Lesotho, a sovereign nation of 2 million bordered on all sides by South Africa, granted the continent’s first license to grow and export legal medical cannabis in 2017. Currently, several countries including Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, are examining legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical or industrial applications.

What can Israel offer Africa’s cannabis industry?

Africa’s potential for export has attracted some of the world’s largest cannabis companies, including Canadian giants Tilray and Canopy Growth Corp. While expansion into substantial local markets and global export holds promise, in order to keep the cannabis value chain local, ensure sustainable growth and improve efficacy, infrastructure and tech will play an important role.

This is where Israeli expertise can offer an advantage. As the “Startup Nation,” Israel’s biggest commodity is its intellectual property (IP). The concentration of talent and tech makes Israel’s cannabis-specific offerings a perfect match for Africa’s big-grow potential.

Israel is a global leader in advanced cannabis production solutions, including unique extraction techniques, targeted formulations, plant quality monitoring technology and novel delivery platforms. This can offer greater cost-efficiency and standardization to ensure the health of Africa’s expanding cannabis industry. Anticipating a cannabis boom in the near future, Israeli aggrotech companies are already planting roots in Africa.

This partnership is mutually beneficial: Israeli companies have an opportunity to expand their global footprint and African growers benefit from the leading-edge cannabis tech and research that are Israel’s cottage industry. Another reason why integrating the African supply chain is particularly important is to ensure that local businesses and workers are not cut out of end-product profit. Israel can help promote social equity by contributing to post-production cannabis infrastructure and technology.

African Cannabis, Global Impact

Beyond mutual financial benefit, the partnership between African cannabis farms and Israeli tech stands to help people around the world. By expanding the African market and ensuring supply chain sustainability, patients with a wide range of conditions will enjoy increased access to high-quality, cost-effective cannabis-based medicine. This growth, however, should foster and protect the interests of local stakeholders including farmworkers, local patients and small cannabis businesses.

Novel cannabis-derived therapies are impacting global health, with numerous researchers and policy-makers sanctioning cannabinoid drugs to treat epilepsy, AIDS and chemotherapy-related symptoms, and muscular disorders. The benefits of a thriving African cannabis industry extend beyond economic growth. A healthy African market could become a main source of bulk medicinal cannabis and cannabis-derived products, and Israeli cannabis know-how can help achieve this while promoting sustainability and social equity.

Saul Kaye is the Founder and CEO of iCAN: Israel-Cannabis and CannaTech, a global cannabis industry conference founded with the mission of expanding the global cannabis ecosystem and contributing to the ongoing post-prohibition dialogue. CannaTech will be holding an African conference in Cape Town, South Africa, November 24-26 where the most pressing issues facing the industry will be discussed with regional and international cannabis business and thought leaders.

Farmers Struggle as Hemp Harvest Winds Down

Farmers Struggle as Hemp Harvest Winds Down

Ajit Singh strode across his 16-acre hemp field toward a broken-down harvester. He’d been hoping all day that the mechanic now crouched beside the machine could get it back up and running. 

It was late October and Singh still had thousands of stinky green and purple cannabis plants across 425 acres to pick, dry and sell before winter. Like many hemp growers here in Jackson County, Oregon, he was harvesting slowly, facing a mold problem and unhappy with prices offered by potential buyers. 

“We want a better price,” said Singh, a soil scientist and former garden store owner — and, he said, he was prepared to hold out for one. He sold 50 acres of hemp for $70 a pound last year and now was being quoted prices less than half that. 

Hemp growers nationwide scaled up this year after Congress legalized the non-psychoactive cannabis. They hoped to cash in on the booming market for cannabinoids such as wellness darling CBD, an ingredient in oils, tinctures and salves. But as harvest winds down, it’s likely that many growers will go bust.

More than half a million acres were licensed for hemp production this year, though Vote Hemp, a hemp advocacy nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., estimated in September that less than half that was planted. 

“People went in thinking they’d be instant millionaires. But the reality is, they’re broke.”

Matt Ochoa,  founder JEFFERSON PACKING HOUSE

Some of the more than 16,000 licensed growers will profit from their crops and say hemp is a better investment than traditional commodities such as corn. However, because of crop failure and other factors, Vote Hemp estimates that between 40% and half of the crop planted this year won’t be harvested.

“People went in thinking they’d be instant millionaires,” said Matt Ochoa, founder of Jefferson Packing House, a cannabis drying, processing and distribution business in Medford, Oregon. “But the reality is, they’re broke.”

In late October the mood was so grim in Jackson County, home to about a quarter of Oregon’s 1,957 licensed hemp growers, that rumors were swirling of husband-wife growing teams divorcing, farmers selling in a panic to low bidders and despairing entrepreneurs dying by suicide (the Jackson County Sheriff’s office told Stateline that it investigates all suicides in the county and is not aware of any involving hemp growers).

“I’ve literally had a tightness in my chest from all these failures the past few days,” said Mark Taylor, founder of the Southern Oregon Hemp Co-operative, when he met with Stateline at a Medford restaurant last month. He still thinks the hemp industry has a bright future but worries that a lot of the crop planted in Oregon this year isn’t going to make it. “I believe we’ve lost a substantial amount of hemp,” he said.

Nationwide, bad weather, mold, disease, pests and inexperience have crushed some crops. Now lack of capital, harvesting equipment and drying space — challenges affecting rookie and veteran farmers alike as growing expands — means that some healthy plants may not make it out of the ground. 

“People can’t get it out [of the fields] because there’s not the infrastructure, the capital or the labor to get it through,” Ochoa said. 

Wholesale hemp prices, while higher than for other agricultural commodities, are expected to decline for key cannabinoid products this year as new suppliers flood the market, according to Washington D.C.-based cannabis industry research firm New Frontier Data. And even farmers who thought they had buyers lined up are finding there are no guarantees. 

Singh is optimistic that he’ll find a buyer for the crop he spent millions of dollars planting, even though much of it is blighted by mold. Moldy hemp, while less valuable than the unblemished stuff, can still be processed into CBD oil.

Other parts of the country have faced different diseases and pests. Bipolaris leaf spot, which limits the photosynthetic area of the plant, was widespread in Tennessee, said Katy Kilbourne, a plant pathologist with the state’s agriculture department. 

Zach Hansen, an assistant professor in the entomology and plant pathology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, has seen about 10% crop loss in worst case scenarios to another fungal disease, Southern blight. “It’s basically a death sentence for the plant,” Hansen said. 

Corn earworm, a common pest to sweet corn in the South, has transitioned to hemp nicely, according to experts, prompting growers to hire people to walk up and down hemp rows and hand-pick the pests off individually. 

‘The Money Is in the Plants’

In Southern Oregon and other regions where hemp production exploded this year, people up and down the hemp supply chain are feeling the pressure. 

Ochoa is a tall man with a gentle smile who radiated calm as he walked through his 100,000-square-foot hemp-drying warehouse, fielding nonstop phone calls, video calls, emails and urgent questions from his staff. 

His Zen demeanor is misleading, however. “I’ve never been this stressed in my life,” he said as he headed from the curing room, a cool space where dried hemp lay in plastic-lined packing crates, to the cavernous hall where freshly harvested plants lay drying on racks. 

Not only was Ochoa trying to manage a rapidly growing business, but like his hemp grower clients, he was squeezed for cash. “The system is out of money,” he had explained earlier, in his bare-bones office. “The entire industry segment is all in. All the money is in the plants right now.”

Ochoa said buyers are out there, but it’s hard to know who’s serious. In other parts of the country, even farmers who entered into contracts well ahead of the growing season also are having problems.

When Stateline met Michael Calebs earlier this year, he proudly wore a clean gray cap emblazoned with the green, upside-down V logo of the company that processes his hemp, Atalo Holdings. With a contract, Calebs wasn’t worried about investing $200,000 in hemp seed, clones, fertilizer, land, diesel, insurance and labor across 33 acres in London, Kentucky. 

In September, Atalo CEO William Hilliard sent its growers a letter alerting them that an investor had pulled out, and it could not offer a “specific or dependable date” for when growers could expect to get paid. 

“Matter of fact, they recommend if we can find a place to sell our crop to sell it,” said Calebs, who’s also thwarted two attempts by thieves to steal his hemp. “That’s scary, isn’t it? That could bankrupt us.”

Hilliard told Stateline that Atalo continues to seek funding and intends to pay in full about 80 growers, including Calebs, who collectively this season planted about 1,700 acres in Kentucky and neighboring states. Hilliard attributed Atalo’s challenges to specific investors and outside forces, such as news of overproduction that has investors wary of getting involved, lackluster financial results among cannabis companies and uncertainty in the vaping industry. 

“Our enthusiasm for the hemp industry has not dampened at all,” Hilliard said.

Meanwhile, GenCanna — another heavyweight in growing and processing industrial hemp crops — is being sued by a group of hemp farmers in Kentucky over a deal that fell through to create a drying facility and pay an increased price for processed hemp. 

The farmers want $5 million, but GenCanna disputes their claims, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. In addition, there are at least 37 liens against a property the company leases in Mayfield, Kentucky. Records show the company owes just shy of $52 million, according to Tammy Flint, Graves County clerk.

Neighboring Tennessee licensed roughly 4,700 acres of hemp last year. This year, it’s an astounding 51,000 acres, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. 

The number of licensed growers increased nearly 1,600% this year, from 226 to 3,800, “and that has had some catastrophic effects,” said Bill Corbin, a third-generation tobacco farmer in Springfield, Tennessee. Corbin fears he’s made a “massive mistake” by forgoing tobacco this year to grow hemp exclusively. 

Corbin suggests Tennessee institute a narrow window for growers to obtain licenses and restrict growers’ hemp acreage and pounds based on averages from previous years of documented production. “That should be the case with hemp, so we don’t travel this path again.”

Meanwhile, hemp prices are all over the place. Pete Gendron, president of the cannabis advocacy group Oregon SunGrowers Guild, says he’s seeing a range of prices nationally — from about $12 a pound for hemp with low cannabinoid concentrations to $1,000 a pound for top-quality flower that can be rolled into joints and smoked. Last year’s price range, he said, was also huge.

Many hemp growers in southern Oregon, even experienced ones, aren’t going to be able to sell for premium prices this year, thanks to early rains that spread mold across hemp fields.

Stormmy Paul, a longtime cannabis entrepreneur who runs a hemp drying business in the area, said mold can turn a $250 a pound crop into a $25 a pound crop. Because hemp is so expensive to plant and harvest, he said, once prices drop below $20 a pound, farmers start losing money. 

It generally costs between $8,000 and $20,000 an acre to grow hemp, not including harvest costs, Ochoa said. Many rookie growers underestimate the expense. “People think they can grow it for $4,000 to $8,000 an acre, and then they get in,” he said, “and all they can do is keep borrowing money all the way to the finish line.” 

Pushing Forward 

By late October, between 75% and 90% of the viable hemp crop in Oregon should have been out of the ground and in drying barns, Gendron said. But in the Rogue Valley, a cannabis-growing mecca near the California border, hemp fields were still bursting with plants toward the end of the month. Many fields, such as Singh’s 16-acre plot, were partially harvested. “Not everything that’s sitting in the field right now is going to be harvested,” Gendron said.

Singh is pushing on, despite mold, harvest challenges and the accidental fertilization of the Phoenix field by male hemp plants from a neighboring farm — which filled Singh’s once-pristine hemp flowers with seeds. 

He initially planned to pay field workers to hand-shuck the hemp flowers, but that proved prohibitively expensive. Mukesh Sheoran, Singh’s business partner and cousin, said that an initial crew of 100 workers for the Phoenix field put the company back $20,000 a day. 

Determined to cut down on labor costs, the hemp growers, both in their mid-40s, bought a green-bean harvester from a farmer in Idaho and modified it to suck up hemp leaves and flowers. Even with the machine, the harvest has proceeded slowly, because the cousins can only harvest as much hemp as they have space on the farm to dry. 

The harvester’s breakdown, thankfully, was short. After conferring with the mechanic, who welded adjustments to the machine in the middle of the field, Singh climbed gingerly into the cab and worked the harvester slowly round until he could drive it along a line of hemp plants. 

Sheoran watched silently as the harvester inched its way down the line, spitting hemp debris into a tank at the back of the machine. “We had very high hopes. See the amount of flowers we had?” he said, looking out at the top-heavy plants. “It’s all seedy.”

Even longtime farmers are facing challenges. Steve Fry, a 68-year-old organic vegetable farmer in the Rogue Valley, grew about 20 acres of hemp last year and twice as much this year. “We did so well last year that we thought we’d do more. That’s how dumb farmers are, you know,” he said, sitting on the tailgate of a truck parked beside his red barn on a glorious October afternoon. 

Fry estimated that he’d harvested about 15% of his hemp crop, which also has been afflicted by mold. He said he’s wondering whether it’ll be worth harvesting the most damaged plants, given the prices they’re likely to command. “I’ve got to talk to my processor guys,” he said. 

Next year, Fry said, he’ll be better prepared, with more drying space ready to go early in the season as well as modified harvesting machinery.

And this harvest, while disappointing, won’t be crushing. Conventional crop prices are so low, he said, that even if he harvests only some hemp he’ll be better off than if he had planted vegetables. “We’re still going to do better than we would have if the whole place was in veg,” Fry said. 

Fry said he hasn’t made a profit on vegetables in three years. Last year’s hemp, not carrots and squash, is paying the bills on a new food processing building on his family farm. “Thank God hemp came,” Fry said.

This story first appeared at Pew Trusts.

Nevada Becomes First State to Ban Employers From Testing Workers for Weed

Nevada Becomes First State to Ban Employers From Testing Workers for Weed

Nevada has passed a bill telling employers that they can no longer refuse to hire workers on the basis of their testing positive for cannabis.

In a move that could blaze a small but important trail for workers’ rights across the U.S., Nevada has passed a bill telling employers and state agencies that they can no longer refuse to hire workers on the basis of their testing positive for cannabis. It’s a long way to come for a state that was once infamous for its notoriously strong prohibitionist laws penalizing those in possession of marijuana.

Last week, Governor Steve Sisolak signed AB 132, which prohibits the denial of employment to cannabis consumers after drug pre-screenings. Advocates are hailing the passage of the bill because it finally clears a major gap in the law between states that have rendered marijuana totally legal for medical or recreational purposes and those U.S. companies that try to block their workers from toking up at all.

In Nevada, as in the other several states that have made recreational cannabis legal across the country, employers were still able to turn people away from jobs if they failed the “whizz quiz,” or urine-based drug tests. NFL playersseeking to recover from the intense physical pressures of football are unable to use cannabis-based remedies, doctors have lost their licenses for using medicinal cannabis, and 48 percent of businesses in otherwise weed-friendly Colorado have “well-defined” rules that allow them to fire employees if marijuana is detected in a worker’s test results.

However, a number of provisions in the bill complicate matters. Safety-sensitive positions including first responders such as firefighters and EMTs, doctors, transportation and construction workers are exempt from the bill, as are workers who belong to collective bargaining agreements—which bars union workers who are extant across numerous industries in Nevada, according to Merry Jane. Additionally, federal law demands that workers like truck drivers must take drug tests.

Paul Enos, the chief executive of the Nevada Trucking Association who helped ensure revisions to the law that would allow safety exemptions for certain workers, told the Washington Post:

“We want to make sure we have safety conscious individuals … The bill gives employers a tremendous amount of discretion to determine whether or not the position they are hiring for could impact the safety of others … They can still use positive tests for marijuana to deny the job.”

The law has come a long way since it was introduced, with some employers accusing state politicians of allowing workers to blaze it up while on the clock.

Lead sponsor of AB 132 and Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal said during a hearing for the bill in February:

“There is nothing in AB132 that prevents an employer from having a policy prohibiting the possession or use of marijuana at the workplace … The bill does not get into violating the [federal] supremacy clause or get into the business of usurping federal law and preventing rights of federal employees.”

Yet Madisen Saglibene, the executive director of the Nevada and Las Vegas chapters of NORML, worked hard alongside legislators to ensure the bill’s passage in the face of opposition from industry representatives and politicians like Ellen Spiegel, chair of the Commerce and Labor committee.

Saglibene told VICE that the troubling provisions in the bill were a result of compromises necessary to pass the bill, explaining:

“It was hated … It was one of those things where we were meeting with legislators and they were like, Absolutely not. We are not taking away employers’ right to hire who they want.”

But thanks to Neal, who held meetings with all parties interested in the bill, a compromise was finally met. Saglibene said:

“By the time it was having its final public comments, most of the stakeholders who were initially against it testified as neutral … which is saying a lot, actually, considering they were so vehemently opposed.”

Gov. Sisolak has also signed Assembly Bill 192, which provides for a process through which individuals can petition to have their criminal records sealed if their conviction was for offenses that were eventually decriminalized, such as for a cannabis conviction.

Saglibene remains optimistic about the prospects of the AB 132, which opens the door to similar—and perhaps stronger—legislation across the country. Acknowledging that there is still work ahead, she noted:

“We’re very pleased … This isn’t the end-all-be-all but this is absolutely a step in the right direction.

This story first appeared at The Mind Unleashed

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote.” Nadler said in a press release. “Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level. That’s why I introduced the MORE Act, legislation which would assist communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of these laws.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.”

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“Our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past for far too long. As states continue to modernize how we regulate cannabis, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive,” Lee said in a press release. “I’m pleased that this critical bill includes key tenets from my own legislation to right the wrongs of the failed and racist War on Drugs by expunging criminal convictions, reinvesting in communities of color through restorative justice, and promoting equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry.”

Legalization advocates cheered the committee’s move to take the first congressional vote on ending cannabis prohibition.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industryin September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

This story first appeared at www.marijuanamoment.net

Earth Power: Hemp Batteries Better Than Lithium And Graphene

Earth Power: Hemp Batteries Better Than Lithium And Graphene

Henry Ford’s Model T was famously made partly from hemp bioplastic and powered by hemp biofuel. Now, with battery-powered vehicles starting to replace those that use combustion engines, it has been found that hemp batteries perform eight times better than lithium-ion. Is there anything that this criminally-underused plant can’t do?

The comparison has only been proven on a very small scale. (You weren’t expecting a Silicon Valley conglomerate to do something genuinely groundbreaking were you? They mainly just commercialise stuff that’s been invented or at least funded by the state.) But the results are extremely promising.

The experiment was conducted by Robert Murray Smith – who has built up quite a following on his YouTube channel– of FWG Ltd in Kent. He observed a Volts by Amps curve of both the hemp and lithium batteries and found that the power underneath the hemp cell was a value of 31 while that of the lithium cell had a value of just 4. Although he does not claim to have proven anything, he said that the results of his experiment showed that the performance of the hemp cell is “significantly better” than the lithium cell.

It comes as no real surprise, which is presumably why he conducted the experiment. In 2014, scientists in the USfound that waste fibres – ‘shiv’ – from hemp crops can be transformed into “ultrafast” supercapacitors that are “better than graphene”. Graphene is a synthetic carbon material lighter than foil yet bulletproof, but it is prohibitively expensive to make. The hemp version isn’t just better, it costs one-thousandth of the price.

The scientists “cooked” leftover bast fibre – the inner bark of the plant that usually ends up in landfill – into carbon nanosheets in a process called hydrothermal synthesis. “People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?” said Dr David Mitlin of Clarkson University, New York, in an interview with the BBC. “We’re making graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price – and we’re doing it with waste.”

Dr Mitlin’s team recycled the fibres into supercapacitors, energy storage devices which are transforming the way electronics are powered. While conventional batteries store large reservoirs of energy and drip-feed it slowly, supercapacitors can rapidly discharge their entire load. 

This makes them ideal in machines that require sharp bursts of power. In electric cars, for example, supercapacitors are used for regenerative braking. Releasing this torrent requires electrodes with high surface area, one of graphene’s many phenomenal properties.

Mitlin says that “you can do really interesting things with bio-waste”. With banana peels, for example, “you can turn them into a dense block of carbon – we call it pseudo-graphite – and that’s great for sodium-ion batteries. But if you look at hemp fibre its structure is the opposite – it makes sheets with high surface area – and that’s very conducive to supercapacitors.”

Once the bark has been cooked, “you dissolve the lignin and the semicellulose, and it leaves these carbon nanosheets – a pseudo-graphene structure”. By fabricating these sheets into electrodes and adding an ionic liquid as the electrolyte, his team made supercapacitors which operate at a broad range of temperatures and a high energy density.

Mitlin’s peer-reviewed journal paper ranks the device “on par with or better than commercial graphene-based devices”.

“They work down to 0C and display some of the best power-energy combinations reported in the literature for any carbon,” he adds. “For example, at a very high power density of 20 kW/kg (kilowatt per kilo) and temperatures of 20, 60, and 100C, the energy densities are 19, 34, and 40 Wh/kg (watt-hours per kilo) respectively.” Fully assembled, their energy density is 12 Wh/kg – which can be achieved at a charge time less than six seconds.

At the end of 2018, Texas-based electric motorcycle company Alternet announced that it was working with Mitlin to power motorbikes for its ReVolt Electric Motorbikes subsidiary.

So there you have it. If we already knew that there is no need to use the fossil fuels that are destroying the planet’s climate, because hemp biofuel provides a better alternative, we now know that there is no need to destroy the environment by mining for lithium and the materials that are used in batteries. We can literally grow technology. Hemp can save and power the world.

This article was first published in The Quarter Leaf issue 1.