The MultiHemp research project is working on developing hemp genotypes with enhanced traits suitable for diverse cultivation environments and provide improved feedstock for a wide array of innovative end products generated within an integrated biorefinery. One task is developing a modular biorefinery in which market forces will dictate the flow of raw material into differing product options.
The crop is envisaged to produce the following products: long bast fibres for technical textiles and high-quality composites, short bast fibre for injection moulded bio-composites and insulation products, wood shives for low carbon construction materials, oil for health and personal care applications, protein for food and feed, and finally high value chemicals such as phytosterols, waxes and essential oils. Innovative applications will be developed for the by-products from processing routes including: dust from fibre processing, retting liquor from fibre degumming, flour (or cake) from oil extraction, and threshing residues from seed harvesting. Mapping industrial and processing requirements in terms of fibre and oil quality will identify breeding targets and improvements in crop management.
For better hemp breeding and cultivation
The targeted improvements in hemp raw material quality will be driven by industry end-user requirements. A better scientific understanding of genetic control of biomass quality will allow the identification of molecular markers and modern molecular tools for plant breeding. Commercial varieties, wild accessions and lines at different stages in the breeding pipeline will be tested in field trials across multiple locations. Agronomic trials and physiological studies will be undertaken to study the effect of cultivation practices and growing conditions on biomass yield and quality. Knowledge generated during agronomic and physiological studies will be used to calibrate and validate a crop model that will aid hemp breeding and cultivation.
The economic and environmental implications of the newly developed genotypes coupled with the innovations in cultivation, harvesting and processing systems and the integrated hemp biorefinery concept as a whole in order to maximise potential benefits to the environment and rural economy is studied. This will include examining the impact of displacing petrochemical and cotton-derived materials. Overall, the project is designed to maximize economic returns (developing high added value applications), to increase environmental sustainability and to foster rural development.