GILBERT PLAINS, Man. — The machines lined up in the Plains Industrial Hemp Processing plant near Gilbert Plains are silent.
However, the new facility will soon be operational and hums will resonate from the state of the art processing equipment and hemp bale loader.
The industrial hemp processing plant is said to be the first facility of its kind in Canada.
It will manufacture hemp pellets, animal bedding and industrial and residential insulation.
President Robert Jin said most of the machines have already been tested and he hopes to begin trial runs in January and start operations shortly after that.
Many of the machines were imported from China or designed and built specifically for the facility.
For example, the company is designing a machine capable of opening large square bales without breaking the hemp stalk into small pieces.
Jin said the longer the hemp fibre, the higher quality the final product will be.
The process starts by setting a round bale on the opener, which slowly unwinds it.
Hemp stalks are fed into a separator that sends the hurd one way and the fibre another.
The hurd, material inside the stalk, is separated into larger and smaller pieces. The dust is turned into pellets and the larger pieces are sold for many uses, including animal bedding.
They have an absorption rate many times greater than other straw and sawdust.
The hurd is also used to produce hempcrete, a breathable material with good thermal qualities. It is generally used as infill insulation around the structural framing of a house.
Material that doesn’t achieve the quality specifications for dust-free hurd or hurd-free fibre is pelletized, allowing all of the material from the bales to be used.
The hemp fibre can also be separated into longer and shorter strands, as well as varying degrees of coarseness. Larger strands can be used in clothing and textile industry, while shorter strands work well for insulation and composites matting.
Using hemp fibre as reinforcement for composite materials is a growing trend, largely because it has similar mechanical properties as glass fibre. As well, there is increasing demand for material with a low carbon footprint.
Demand for hemp fibre insulation is also on the rise. The non-toxic building material is durable, breathable, easy to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way and has a high thermal conductivity.
It will take 15 minutes to turn a hemp bale into the final products.
The plant will provide a new market in the region for an under-used material by processing up to 40,000 bales per year.
Plains Industrial Hemp Processing is contracting to buy 5,000 acres of hemp straw from farmers in the upcoming year.
The plant will employ 30 people in a town of about 750 people, with an additional 1,000 people in the surrounding Rural Municipality of Gilbert Plains.
The $9 million project was partially funded by two repayable federal loans totalling $4,755,000, and a $500,000 grant from the Manitoba government.
Jin said the people in the region were the main reasons why he decided to build in Gilbert Plains. They have been helpful and supportive and he considers many of them friends, he added.