Article by Ricardo Oliveira, Lift News
Hemp plants grow considerably tall and thick, and in the period of just one year they accumulate a large biomass. Surprisingly, this rate of growth requires little human input and is largely constant across different environmental conditions. The fact that hemp has been planted from the tropics up to the Arctic circle stands as an example of its robustness.
The high-quality cellulose found in the plant’s stem, the oil in its seeds and the resins in its flowers have been put to use in over 50,000 distinct applications. Among others, these include fabrics, ropes, paper, nutritional food, medicine, cosmetics, and biofuels. Add to this the fact that hemp plants have a positive impact on the environment, and it becomes apparent how hemp could contribute to a robust sustainable economy.
Despite its many advantages and long history, global hemp cultivation declined steeply after the end of the Second World War. Hemp plantations were mostly displaced by cotton, which has a much higher environmental cost due to its extensive water and chemical requirements. Today, hemp is witnessing a sort of comeback, but it still remains far from previous levels of production.
Importantly, this 50-year period of relative abandonment coincided with a time in which modern science was driving substantial improvements in all other major crops. Thus, hemp’s full potential remains largely unknown.
In light of this, the European Union funded project “MultiHemp” with the goal of applying modern tools and research to optimize hemp crops. This project led to an interesting breakthrough, when earlier this year researchers from the Netherlands and Italy created a mathematical model that describes hemp’s unique photosynthesis capability. Their report can be freely accessed in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy.