EXCITING £30m plans to create a state-of the art processing plant in the East Midlands could be the catalyst for a UK hemp revolution.
With licences for 1,700 acres of hemp cultivation in the UK entrepreneur Jamie Bartley, is one of the industry’s leading lights.
Now approaching a second harvest on 240 acres of cultivated crop at Yelvertoft, near Northampton, he mapped out his vision for hemp’s future.
The cornerstone of this includes a £30m processing plant capable of handling 5,000 acres of hemp every year – 25 tonnes a day – producing products for the energy and construction industries.
Hemp Is A Marvellous Plant
Mr Bartley, co-founder and Director of the Unyte Group, said: “We are at point we know the multiple technologies we need to go into the plant to make bio-ethanol, green hydrogen, insulation and bio-composites for the construction industry.
“Hemp is a marvellous plant with so many potential uses, but at this stage we are focusing on the products from which we can derive the best value and maximum decarbonisation.”
The processing plant will be sited at Theddingworth, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, The plant will be powered by the adjacent £50m, 10Mw Welland Waste, wood power plant.
Energy, Transport & Construction
It will consist of a number of production lines beginning with a £6m de-cortication hammer mill to refine the hemp straw.
He continued: “Once we have recovered the shiv from this process we will take the lignin out; this will be collected and used as a binder in the insulation products on another processing line.
“The remaining shiv biomass will be fermented for bio-ethanol and bio- methane. To be able to compete with the petrochemical plastic, rock wool insulation and OSB construction board industries we have to do this project at scale.
“Everyone wants a more sustainable option, but if it’s not cost viable people will only pay over the odds for so long. Ultimately we need to be in the market, and at the same price as the rest of the market.”
The UK currently has two privately-owned processing plants, both based in Yorkshire and capable of handling a combined total of four tonnes per day.
So this is a major development for the long-neglected UK hemp industry and Mr Bartley says he has been approached by over 250 farmers looking to cultivate hemp for the project.
Unyte Secures Support of High Street Bank
Prior to the pandemic Unyte was talking to venture capital investors but these have now withdrawn, however, he does have the support of the Nat West Corporate and Commercial Bank.
“We must be the first UK cannabis-based business to secure the support of a High Street bank and this has been helped by the respected teams we have assembled such as Professor Mike Barnes and Hannah Deacon in our medical division.
“This is something the banks have not been historically keen on. But we have built the right models and the bank can see we’re in the right space, doing the right things,” he said.
Crop Almost Ready To Harvest
When we met Mr Bartley’s hemp crop was progressing and set fair for an autumn harvest.
This year’s crop will go in to aerobic digestion energy production, some will support its on-going trials with university researchers and some will be bailed until the processing plant is complete.
Looking further ahead, he foresees a great future for the industry. “Hemp is a great crop; it’s environmentally beneficial, improves following agricultural crop yields, strips out residual pesticides in the ground, breaks up soil compaction, therefore increasing attenuation capacity and suck ups 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, during the growth cycle.”
“We’d also like to eventually harvest all of the hemp plant. In some countries they can undertake a tri-harvest which incorporates the seed and flower, the leaf and biomass for CBD, and the fibre and shiv for industrial purposes.”
@More on the marvels of the hemp plant and its potential to be at the forefront of the UK’s low-carbon future to come in BusinessCann over the next few days.