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Industrial Hemp

Report on hemp shows commercial uses limited

21 March 1997


A feasibility study of the hemp industry and its products has found that the the most likely immediate use of hemp fibre in Australia is for high-priced speciality clothing.

 

The report, Some Opportunities for Hemp Products in Australia, was commissioned by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to answer the key questions raised at a national hemp workshop in late 1995.

Report author Stuart de Jong of Planning and Managing Projects Pty Ltd, evaluated the potential for using hemp for building products, geotextiles and other industrial uses, insulation products and textiles.

Mr de Jong says the key factor holding back the development of the hemp industry in Australia is the high cost of producing and processing the fibre.

As pulping material for building products the hemp bark fraction competes with wood chips which at $115/tonne are almost a third of the price of hemp.

Likewise preparing hemp fibre for textile processing costs $3500/dry tonne. This is significantly more expensive that cotton which is available baled for $2500/tonne. There are also other limiting factors such as high delivery costs, uncertainty of supply, the nature of the fibre and problems with providing specifications, he said.

While Stuart de Jong sees a market for hemp at the high priced end of the clothing industry he warns that prices currently demanded for these products may not be sustainable, and the market in Australia is extremely small - only about 300 tonnes.

Stuart de Jong says that for hemp to be viable as a pulping material its productivity per hectare would need to be improved by a factor of two or three. If that could be achieved then the mechanical issues of separating and pulping hemp fibres to suitable lengths would need to be addressed.

In terms of use as a textile fibre he says an investigation into overseas developments in retting and fibre preparation of hemp should be conducted. In addition steam explosion of hemp could be investigated and costed with a view to exporting partly processed hemp fibre.

[ Source : http://www.rirdc.gov.au/pub/media_releases/21mar97.html