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Could hemp be the answer to UK energy crisis?

Government funding aims to provide new biomass options for energy including hemp production

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Hemp30: One of the government backed biomass projects

The government has opened funding for £26 million for innovative projects aimed at increasing the UK production of sustainable biomass.

The funding will support the development of innovative new solutions of which, hemp is listed as an option. It is hoped that it will allow researchers to develop sustainable biomass to power homes and businesses. It is one way in which the government is attempting to handle the current energy crisis and achieve carbon targets in the UK.

Projects chosen for the funding will help to drive biomass productive and sustainable alternatives in the UK through the breeding, planting, cultivating and harvesting of organic matter such as hemp, algae or whole trees. Projects originally selected during the first phase of funding will be able to apply for more to expand their projects further.

Each bid will be able to apply for up to £4 million or up to £5 million for those spread across multiple locations. Start-ups and family-run businesses will eligible to apply alongside research institutes and universities. Twenty-five projects have already been selected as part of phase one but under phase 2, they will be able to develop from the design stage to full demonstration projects.

Energy and climate change minister Greg Hands said: “Developing greener fuels like biomass is key to helping the UK slash carbon emissions and drive down costs for consumers. This £26 million government investment will support innovators across the UK, boosting jobs and investment, and help ensure we have the homegrown supply we need to support our plans to build back greener and tackle climate change.”

As a result of the energy crisis, the biomass market is set to rise dramatically. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predict that it could increase as much as 28 per cent by 2026 especially due to Covid-recovery.

Biomass development

Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from either plants or animals. It can be used for low carbon energy and it is a key part of the government’s plan for tackling climate change. Some of the materials also being considered are seaweed and grasses. Biomass is also backed by the independent Climate Change Committee.

It comes as the government face increasing pressure to tackle the energy crisis and fuel poverty facing the UK. Energy prices soared causing a surge in ‘fuel poverty‘ among homes in the UK. A government report released in July 2021 revealed that 2.5 million homes are currently experiencing poverty as a result of rising gas prices and subsequent bill increases.

Around nine in ten British homes rely on a gas boiler to heat their homes. Gas as a fossil fuel releases carbon into the air which contributes to climate change. One solution proposed has been a gas boiler ban which should see all homes replace their current units with sustainable versions.

Biomass: A field of hemp crops

York University funding

The University of York and the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) received over £190,000 for a project examining hemp as a biomass option and also increasing its capabilities as a crop through breeding.

HEMP-30 was one of 24 projects awarded the funding in a previous round. The ten-year project addresses changing the production and utilisation of industrial hemp as a biorefinery crop.

As part of the project, the University researchers will be examining molecular plant breeding technology with a view to enhancing the traits of hemp plants for developing markets. It will also boost the amount of hemp grown in the UK from 800 hectares to 80,000 making it a major crop.

Some of the projects supported under Phase 1 included producing algae using wastewater from breweries and dairy industries, seaweed farming in North Yorkshire and increasing the planting and harvesting of willow.

Professor Ian Graham from the University’s Department of Biology said the project confirms York’s commitment to supporting the shift from oil-based to bio-based products.

He said: “The HEMP-30 project is an outstanding example of that translation from the lab to bio-based applications, opening up new markets for farmers, supporting the development of high value, skilled jobs while addressing the need for low carbon industrial products.”

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Over a third of US THC products too strong for legal sale

Despite complying with the Farm Bill, a new study has shown that many US THC products are too strong to legally sell in a cannabis dispensary.

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Over a third of US THC products too strong for legal sale
Home » News » Research » Could hemp be the answer to UK energy crisis?

CBD Oracle has carried out a lab study of 53 THC products showing that over a third would be too strong to legally sell in a cannabis dispensary.

The new CBD Oracle report reveals that THC gummies can be over three times as strong as dispensary edibles. The US Farm Bill, introduced in 2018, makes any “hemp” product legal provided it contains less than 0.3 per cent delta-9 THC by dry weight. All but two of the products contained THC within this legal limit.

Read more: InfinteCAL Labs discusses avoiding heavy metal contamination in cannabis crops

The report shows that hemp delta-9 products use the specific language of the 2018 Farm Bill to sell high-THC products with far fewer restrictions than edibles in legal states. CBD Oracle states that this has flooded the market with edibles, tinctures and cartridges that wouldn’t clear the higher bar usually used for high-THC products.

Read more: US studies show regulation around CBD and THC labelling desperately needed

It also found that, largely, companies do no age verification, do not test products for safety and do not give customers the dose that they claim to.

Chief research officer at CBD Oracle, Mark Mellone, commented: “Our investigation reveals an industry profiting from a legal loophole, offering gummies much stronger than dispensary edibles with barely a fraction of the oversight.

“We bought products online without ever proving our age and all but one was just dropped at the mailbox. We’re all strongly pro-cannabis, but hemp, cannabis and CBD’s growth (and further legality across the US) depends upon how well we can maintain standards in both products and industry conduct. We need to do better than this.”

The findings

For the report, CBD Oracle commissioned InfiniteCAL Labs to analyse 53 of the most popular hemp delta-9 THC products on the market, covering 40 per cent of all brands. All of the samples were analysed for potency, and 10 were randomly chosen for additional safety testing. Oracle also looked into the products from the lab reports to determine whether companies use child-protective packaging or asked for a signature on delivery.

The analysis found that 51 per cent of products are mislabeled, dosages are often very high, 75 per cent of products are not tested for safety, some companies get certificates of analysis (COAs) from non-ISO-accredited labs and that 85 per cent didn’t use online age verification to prevent minors accessing high-THC products.

Read more: Exploring trends in THC beverages

The analysis also found that hemp delta-9 products contain up to 36.7 mg of THC per serving. For states that have passed adult-use cannabis laws, the most common maximum allowed serving is 10 mg, but some states set the limit at 5 mg. The analysis showed that 34 per cent of products exceed this 10 mg per serving limit, and so wouldn’t be legal as part of state cannabis programmes.

It was further revealed that 51 per cent of products were more than 15 per cent above or below the dosage they claimed. In most cases, they were below, with 45 per cent of all products having less THC than the customer paid for.

In three cases the actual dosage was much higher than advertised, such as gummies supposedly containing 10 mg of THC each actually containing 16 mg.

Despite these concerning findings, CBD Oracle also highlighted that 96 per cent of the products tested fell within the 0.3 per cent THC Farm Bill limit and that all of the products sent for safety testing came back completely clean.

Whilst clean products are a good sign for the industry, CBD Oracle remains concerned that young people are gaining access to products illegally due to the lack of age testing and delivery signatures by companies – stating there is a huge need for further regulatory oversight.

Gillian Schauer, PhD, MPH from the Cannabis Regulators Association commented: “In addition to the consumer safety and youth access issues, from a market perspective, having high THC hemp-derived products creates a parallel marketplace to existing medical and adult-use cannabis markets.

“The barriers to entry for licensees on current state medical and adult-use markets are much higher, in part because of required consumer safety regulations related to packaging, labeling, and testing.

“A parallel marketplace with lower costs of doing business because of fewer safety regulations could certainly undercut existing medical and adult-use licensees in state markets.”

To read the full report please click here.

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Cellular Goods submits application for skin brightening patent

The company said its research found that lab-tested cannabinoids improve the efficacy of active ingredients in traditional skin brightening products.

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cellular goods

Cellular Goods claims that lab-made cannabinoids can help improve uneven skin tone as a result of factors including ageing, sun exposure and hormonal changes during pregnancy.

The UK-based wellness company Cellular Goods has submitted its first patent application for the use of cannabinoids in skin brightening products. The patent application comes after a series of research projects conducted by the company which found that cannabigerol (CBG) can improve the effectiveness of traditional skin brightening products.

Internal and external factors like hormonal changes during pregnancy and exposure to the sun can cause skin conditions such as melasma and hyperpigmentation that can make the skin tone change and become uneven. There are already a number of products within the beauty and cosmetics industry that claim to produce a brighter and more even skin tone.

Most products in the skin brightening market rely primarily on active ingredients such as Vitamin C, exfoliating acids and hydroquinones that, although effective in tackling melasma and hyperpigmentation, can cause skin irritation and sensitivity.

Cellular goods said there is a need for new ingredients that are as effective as those found in traditional skin brightening products without the uncomfortable side effects.

In an effort to find a suitable alternative, Cellular Goods conducted scientific research to assess the potential of cannabinoids as skin brightening ingredients. The series of research, which involved in-vitro human tissue models, found that lab-made cannabinoids, namely CBG, can improve the efficacy of certain active ingredients found in existing skin brightening products.

“From having skin brightening properties through to helping prevent the signs of ageing caused by UV light exposure and inflammation, cannabinoids have a number of skincare benefits that we are only just starting to understand,” Anna Chokina, CEO of Cellular Goods, said. “The filing of this patent based  on our own research is part of our efforts to help unveil the benefits of cannabinoids, as well as to  develop science-backed innovations that can improve people’s wellness.”

Cellular Goods has incorporated the research findings into its patent application, ‘Dermal Composition  Comprising Cannabinoid and Derivatives Thereof’, filed on 26 April 2022 with the UK Intellectual  Property Office. The company said the patent application will form part of a wider patent portfolio driven by Cellular Goods’ research into the wellness benefits of lab-made cannabinoids.

The company produces a range of skincare products including its ‘Rejuvenating Cannabinoid Face Serum’, the UK’s first CBG-based serum to prevent the signs of ageing caused by UV light exposure and inflammation.

“This work builds on our existing research involving lab-made cannabinoids, including the publication of a white paper on the potential benefits that cannabinoids can have for the skin by preventing the signs of ageing caused by UV exposure and inflammation,” said Alexia Blake, Head of Research and Product Development at Cellular Goods. “We are committed to continuing to develop research that will help us better understand the unique benefits of cannabinoids and how to effectively leverage these benefits across our product  offerings.”

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Discover Scotland’s initiative on hemp

Biochemical engineer Madalina Neacsu is researching hemp’s utilities and educating young people through hemp food.

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Discover Scotland’s initiative on hemp
Home » News » Research » Could hemp be the answer to UK energy crisis?

With a focus on food, education and the environment, Dr Madalina Neacsu at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, is researching the benefits of hemp with funding from the Scottish Government.

Hemp was formerly a traditional part of Scotland’s agricultural tradition. 

“The pollen records from two sites in Fife, eastern Scotland, reveal that hemp cultivation was, during medieval and later historical times, an important component in the local farming economy,” write Kevin Edwards and Graeme Whittington.

After disappearing as an agricultural crop due to cheaper imports and eventual prohibition until 1993, the University of Aberdeen’s hemp initiative, in fellowship with the Scottish Hemp Association and Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, has now encouraged ten farmers to begin cultivating again. 

With aims to be carbon neutral by 2045, the Scottish Government has been funding five-year research programmes to help meet its targets. One of the projects is Dr Neacsu’s hemp research at the Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen.

The project falls under the SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes scheme, which aims to deliver publicly-funded research to find solutions that meet the Scottish Government National Outcomes and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As hemp is becoming increasingly well known for its environmental and health benefits, the research is aiming to find market opportunities for Scottish grown hemp grain and fibre.

Hemp for food

Specialising in the development of functional foods, Dr Neacsu trained as a biochemical engineer and went on to do PhD in natural products chemistry. She wants to understand how plants could help people with their health, in particular, how plant-based food could help prevent or treat certain disorders.

Dr Neacsu commented: “After you develop a food or look at the plant, you give it to people to eat to understand the potential when it comes nutrition and health. Specifically, with hemp, a big part of the research I’m doing is looking at sustainable sources of macronutrients, mainly protein, in our diet. 

Read more: What makes hemp such a sustainable crop?

“In Scotland, we do have very good quality meat, but the problem is too highly processed meats that we are eating. We were thinking of partially replacing some of the protein in our diet, especially the highly processed and not so healthy protein sources in our diet. But this has to be something sustainable, so, we looked at crops with the potential to grow in Scotland, and that’s how we came across hemp. 

“Since then, we have been measuring to fully characterise hemp, looking at the macronutrients. We’ve seen that hemp is a rich source of protein – up to 40 per cent protein, and a rich source of dietary fibre – 20 to 30 per cent. 

“It’s also a rich source of phytochemicals which are a part of the composition of the plant. This doesn’t really bring anything nutritionally, however, people know them as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Many of these phytochemicals have already proven to be beneficial for human health.”

For the project, Neacsu and her team produced a flour with hemp which was made into a bread and eaten by volunteers. The team then looked to see what happened to the human body after consuming the bread, measuring things such as blood plasma levels and how hungry people were after eating the bread. 

“We gave people the same amount of protein from different sources. There were five plant-based sources and one animal-based source. What we have seen is that hemp was really beneficial when it comes to controlling hunger and that it beneficially modulates hormones, which are very important when it comes to regulation of sugar metabolism,” said Dr Neacsu.

Hemp for health and environment

Neacsu engaged with Scottish farmers to begin cultivating the crop for food – but also to understand if the plant can help mitigate climate change. The aim is to help farmers diversify their activities with actions that reduce the carbon footprint of their business and promote biodiversity.

“We give farmers knowledge on how hemp could be used to produce food products and to show the Scottish Government that using hemp is a way to tackle climate change,” said Dr Neacsu. “But, as we mainly produce it for food, we have to understand how efficient it is.”

Read more: Could hemp milk help the dairy industry’s sustainability problem?

For this, Dr Neacsu and her team are about to embark on a consumer study where they will be trying to understand how much hemp can impact climate change, as well as bring food products to Scotland to initiate new businesses. To inform this, the study will explore hemp as a food, looking at aspects such as its impact on the gut microbiome.

Dr Neacsu commented: “So, with farmers who are cultivating, we to look at what variety is best, which geographical region in Scotland, how this will affect the nutritional composition of the hemp, to understand how hemp as a food – whether we can develop a food which addresses hunger or address type two diabetes, for example, which will create more demand for the crop.

“We have to understand how fibre and protein is metabolised and can be utilised by the body as a good source of micronutrients.”

The team have begun a project with hemp food products business Good Hemp – which already has products such as hemp milk and cooking oil stocked in major retailers including Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s.

“Good Hemp is the major UK processor when it comes to hemp food,” said Dr Neacsu. “We are trying to look at how they could make their process more sustainable. We looked at all the by-products from hemp food production, how they can be reduced and we will try to design a zero-waste production. 

“We want to see how we can use it maximise and reintroduce it as a nutrient towards circular nutrition, and deliver a zero-waste production line.”

Hemp for the Future

The research is also undertaking a ‘Hemp for the Future’ project, which is aiming to educate young people from aged 13 on the multiple utilities and benefits of the hemp plant. 

With young people today being much more attuned to the devastation of climate change, Dr Neacsu says they are in a good position to learn about how hemp can fit into the picture.

“We believe hemp could be part of the solution when comes climate change,” said Dr Neacsu.  “Hemp is also part of a solution to promote biodiversity in Scotland, and food and climate diversity. 

Read more: Could hemp help mitigate climate change?

“We believe that school children are the ones that should know more about what we do. I think there is an age that they need this education so that we can break the stigma of hemp because every time you speak about it – people think about illegal drugs – which is very bad. 

“We have launched educational material and educational activities in Scotland. We will go in secondary schools to speak about hemp and tell people that it’s so much more than a drug. We summarise uses of hemp not just as a food, but how you can use hemp as paper, how you can reduce the deforestation, how you use this as a building material, how important is as a fuel or just a construction material.”

To engage young people in their education, the project is taking hemp flour into schools and cooking pancakes to emphasise how hemp is a healthy food, show the versatility of the crop and how it tastes.

“We hope – depending on how the activity goes – that we might be able to take this project nationwide. This generation are so much more aware than I was about climate change when I was in secondary school – I think they know so much more and they need the right information,” concluded Dr Neacsu. 

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