As the hemp marketplace becomes saturated with biomass and CBD prices continue to struggle, farmers are looking for more ways to extract value from their crops. Researchers at UC Riverside are working on a better process to do just that while keeping ecological sustainability in mind.
Traditional processing of hemp stalks by pulping produces CO2 and leaves behind toxic residues like ‘black liquor’ that are expensive to treat and dispose of. The cellulose trapped in the stalks is useful for many different end products, but there is a growing need for a better extraction process.
Charles Cai, an adjunct professor at UC Riverside’s College of Engineering, believes he has developed a better way to process hemp. His patented method uses a natural solvent that is easy to recycle and doesn’t leave behind CO2 or toxic waste in the process. The only waste is some mineral ash that can be added back to the soil.
The process, called Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation or (CELF) turns the entire hemp plant into usable materials. These materials include cellulose for fiber, textiles, and construction, resinous lignin for bioplastics, sugars for food products, and extracts for wellness supplements.\
Cai is working with a team of undergraduate students to help bring the process into the commercial space. The team has already shown a proof of concept for CELF and is now working to scale up production.