Seed World

Mobile Hemp Decortication is a Thing Now

With a new market in the United States, an Alberta-based hemp fibre manufacturer has ushered in an era of hemp fibre processing technology.

A long-time hemp processing challenge in Canada is being solved by an Alberta-based company that manufactures building materials made from industrial hemp, with benefits for customers in the United States.

Natural Fibre Technologies (NFT), based in Edmonton, Alta., has launched several mobile decorticators, helping to make hemp decortication easier and more economical.

The decorticators are leased to hemp growers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who use them to separate the hemp hurd from fibre to make building materials like blocks, mats and boards manufactured by NFT.

A lack of hemp decortication plants in Canada has resulted in a major supply chain gap, says NFT founder Tamrat Tekle. He says the mobile decorticators are beginning to change that.

“We’ve had to hold off on scaling up our value-add business because there had been nowhere to get the material we need to make our products,” he says. “We have to establish that supply chain. Making the decortication process mobile is a game-changer.”

Between 2016 and 2019, NFT was involved in building a commercial decortication plant Nisku, Alta. in partnership with another company. Concurrently, the management was engaged in a strategic review on the viability of decentralized primary breakdown (decortication) business model in line with the future growth of the business. This resulted in the fabrication of a mobile decorticator.

“If you have a central operation, you really need to get all your material within a 75- to 100-kilometre radius, because the economics of delivery are very costly,” Tekle says.

The mobile decorticators can process up to two tonnes of hemp stalks per hour, meaning NFT can capitalize on the burgeoning market for hemp products. The recent passage of the United States Farm Bill means hemp is now legal in the United States, and markets are opening up down south.

Tekle adds that as the market takes off, ripple effects could occur throughout the ag industry, including on the hemp breeding side. Right now, NFT does not have any preferred varieties, but he expects that to change with growth and the advent of hemp bred for stronger fibre strength and better usability.