Hemp, a plant from the Cannabis Sativa species, has been used to produce a wide variety of industrial and consumer products. And in just the past few years, we’ve watched the industrial hemp industry grow exponentially as the interest in hemp products grows.
In the U.S., hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act when the 2018 Farm Bill was passed into law. And with hemp and hemp-derived products, like hemp seed oil and CBD hemp, now legal on a federal level, the popularity of industrial hemp continues to rise as more uses of the plant are discovered.
Primarily marketed as a fiber, as a seed, or a dual-purpose crop, industrial hemp products include everything from food and clothing to building materials. Because of the different applications of the hemp harvest and its materials, hemp cultivation, post-processing, and hemp processing will depend on its intended use or the final product. In this guide, we will talk about the best equipment to process hemp fiber and seed production.
The Best Equipment to Process Hemp Fiber
For fiber production, the hemp farmer will put the harvest through hemp drying and bucking or de-budding/destemming, a process that removes the flower and leaves from the plant’s stem. During this harvest processing phase, the best destemming equipment will be one that does not pull or pop the hemp plants’ delicate flowers. Instead, the machine should gently cut the flowers from the stem to ensure the crown buds stay intact. These flowers can be separated and processed to be used for other industrial hemp products.
The hemp stalks will then undergo hemp decortication and retting, processes that make up most of the processing requirements for hemp fiber production. Therefore, the best equipment at this phase is an advanced decorticator. The right machinery will use a reactor that separates the hemp stalks and turns it into pulp. Modern decorticators have a hammermill that effectively separates the hemp plant’s hurd from the bast fiber, removing its gums and resins.
The bast fiber, the natural fiber that grows on the outside of the hemp stalks, are then cleaned, refined, and cut to size. These fibers can then be pressed into compressed bails to be sent to hemp product manufacturing facilities that will purchase wholesale hemp and turn them into industrial products like textiles, rope, paper, clothing, and so on.
If the hemp is intended to make hemp pellets, the straw or stalks will undergo a different form of processing. For this application, the best equipment is a pelletizer machine that functions similarly to machines used for making grass pellets. Because hemp pellets are delicate and can easily fall apart when mishandled, they need a gentle conveyance system when they are being moved throughout the hemp processing facility.
The Best Equipment for Hemp Seed Processing
Hemp seed processing differs from fiber production because instead of using the hemp plant’s stalks, the focus is on the hemp flowers. Hemp farmers will use hemp farming equipment like a straight combine when harvesting the hemp crop. When the combine header is positioned just right and high enough, it will cut the crop just below the seed head. In this way, less of the plant’s fiber ends up in the combine.
The seeds will need to undergo drying, cleaning, and de-hulling. De-hulling involves a hemp seed shelling machine that removes the seed’s outer shell. Seed de-hulling/shelling equipment consists of an input hopper, spiral elevator, and a unit that de-hulls and separates the seeds. The seed separator uses vibration to separate the seed from the shell gently. There is also a device that collects and discharges kernels, the seed’s crunchy skin that’s been separated, and hull residue. For any back-flowing materials, the equipment will send them back for de-hulling and separation again.
Because the hemp seeds are fragile, they need to be conveyed gently, whether they are being moved from the combine to drying facilities, bins, or the de-hulling equipment. In the past, equipment like screw augers, bucket elevators, pneumatic, belt conveyors, and vacuum conveyors were used to move hemp materials; however, these systems proved to be inefficient and not ideal for maintaining consistency. Poor inlet designs and high conveyor speeds made them susceptible to temperature changes, which can damage the seeds. This leads to product loss.
Hemp seeds are delicate and burst easily when introduced to friction and heat. Once they have been compromised, they are susceptible to contamination and can become rancid quickly. Therefore, the best conveyance system in seed processing involves a gentle conveyor system that was designed to maintain the integrity of the seed and reduce wastage.
Tubular drag conveyors were designed specially to keep delicate products, like hemp seeds, from becoming damaged during the move between different processing equipment and phases. Tubular drag conveyors are also referred to as tubular and/or tubular drag cable & disc conveyors. With a modular design meant to accommodate wide ranges of diameters and materials, tubular drag conveyor systems can also be used to move other parts of the plant and hemp products like hemp pellets.
The best tubular drag conveyor will feature technology that combines conveyance tubes with cables and discs attached at set intervals. This innovation gently handles materials from an inlet within an enclosed tube. With top-mounted drive units that are pulled by sprockets, the hemp materials are moved slowly and gently and pulled from the infeed points to discharge ports.
From medical cannabis facilities and CBD production plants to industrial hemp farms, the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill has resulted in a surge of cannabis-related businesses. Considered relatively new, the legal cannabis and hemp industry still has room to grow and develop more streamlined harvesting and processing controls and processes that meet regulatory compliance.
Hemp farmers already growing hemp today are already setting the standards for cultivation and processing by being the first to use advanced equipment that eliminates the need to harvest and process hemp by hand. The best hemp farm equipment and processing equipment depends on the intended use of the hemp plant material.
For processing hemp fiber, hemp processors and producers will need equipment like destemming machines and decortication machines. If the hemp is used for seed production, the process will require a hemp seed shelling machine. But whether you are processing hemp fiber, hemp seeds, or hemp biomass, an effective gentle conveyance system, designed for these special materials, is essential to ensure the raw materials are moved gently to reduce the risk of wastage.