In Innovation Spotlight, we explore some of the most promising innovations from around our community. This week, we take a look at an Irish hemp grower that recently joined EIT Climate-KIC’s Greenhouse incubator.

Four years ago, Edward Hanbidge, a young farmer based in Wicklow, some 40 km south of Dublin, was running a traditional cattle and sheep farm and was frustrated that prices had not increased for 30 years.

“The price of everything has gone up, but the price of produce has stayed the same,” he said. “Farmers are really looking for alternatives, because wheat and barley are not as lucrative as they once were, the beef industry is on its knees and sheep numbers are reducing because the money isn’t in them. We need to think outside the box and look at hemp.”

Hemp is one of the earliest plants to be cultivated, dating as far back as 8,000 BC, but generally isn’t what comes to mind when people think of farming.

Interested in this old plant with new potential, Edward decided to give it a go. After a few years of looking for different markets for his crop, he found there was a growing number of people turning to him for information.

“I’ve got an unreal amount of interest. Farmers, engineers… everyone is coming to me,” he said. “People come to me asking all sorts of questions, from how to grow hemp and what it can be used for to whether they can they buy it from me. The biggest ask is about licensing to grow the crop: How to get it, who to apply to and what red tape is involved?”

With an expanding business on his hands, this summer, Edward turned to EIT Climate-KIC’s Greenhouse incubator for help developing his business plans (for the various industries and markets), how to write contracts to suit the farmer and the processor, non-disclosure agreements to protect his IP, and putting a value on his time and how to to charge for it.

Edward estimates that growing one tonne of hemp takes in one and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is a significant carbon sink potential given he can grow five to six tonnes per acre on average, but this can be higher with certain cultivars, which can take harvests to 10 to 12 tonnes.

The use of hemp in new industries also means that other more carbon-intensive materials don’t need to be used. By growing the hemp market in Ireland, he says most things that use fossil oil can be replaced with the crop. Anything that timber or oil is used for, hemp can be used for too.

Edward sees potential growth in juicing, breweries, health oils, seeds for food, creams and tinctures, pharmaceutical research, biodegradable plastics (cheaper than petrochemicals), home heating, ethanol fuel (hempanol), building materials (hempcrete and fibreboards) and in a potential new paper plant. Just to name a few, because it has 20,000 different uses.

“Not only is hemp going to be carbon-neutral, and possibly even carbon-negative, it’s also going to provide a lot of jobs,” he said. “The hemp industry is waiting to flourish, and it will bring employment, sustainable products, reduce carbon footprint and will be very profitable.”

With demand for his hemp crop already three times the amount that he’s grown in 2018, EIT Climate-KIC’s Greenhouse incubator is poised to help him boost his impact of capturing and locking-in carbon.

 
Location
Ireland
Related Focus Area
Sustainable Land Use
Related Goal
Goal 4: Make agriculture climate-smart
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