Is hemp the answer to combating climate change?
When many people hear the word hemp, they automatically assume it’s the same thing as marijuana—spoiler alert: it’s not—and one company in Utah is ready to set the record straight while harnessing the plant to help combat climate change.
Since early 2020, The Hemp Blockchain has been working tirelessly to create “a blockchain-native supply chain management solution for the industrial hemp industry.” In the two years since its founding, The Hemp Blockchain has partnered with commercial hemp farmers around the globe to leverage the plant as a viable and sustainable resource that can be utilized across multiple industries, including construction and manufacturing, with the potential to help decrease material waste and pollution and help protect the future of our planet.
But before we get into saving the world, it’s important to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana.
While industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is of the same genus as the psychoactive plant widely known as marijuana, hemp contains extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. The amount of THC found in hemp is less than 0.3 percent, according to the US Department of Agriculture, one of the organizations responsible for regulating and providing guidance to the commercial hemp industry in the United States.
In other words, hemp doesn’t yield nearly enough THC to get you high. Hemp does, however, contain Cannabidiol (CBD), a pain-relieving chemical often used by the medical community to help patients with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
“Many are unsure about hemp and its similarities and differences from marijuana. This has been a major point of confusion for people.”
For Steve Prosniewski, COO of The Hemp Blockchain, getting people to understand these key differences has been one of the biggest challenges in getting the company off the ground two years ago.
“Many are unsure about hemp and its similarities and differences from marijuana,” Prosniewski says. “This has been a major point of confusion for people.”
That confusion came to a head in 2018 with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the regulated production of hemp in the United States. That bill also helped remove hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s list of controlled substances. In the time since, legal hemp farms continue to crop up across the United States, including right here in Utah.
“When the US hemp industry got its start four years ago thanks to the Farm Bill, it came out of the gates and fell flat on its face,” Prosniewski says. “There wasn’t a demand to buy the products. The Hemp Blockchain realized that hemp had a lot of potential and has the ability to do a lot of different things, like serving as a material to make plant-based products and removing carbon from the air. It’s a lot like [the movie] ‘Back to the Future,’ where we’re grabbing a plant that was outlawed for suspect reasons, and we’re using it as a tool we can use now and into the future.”
In the 1940s, Ford Motor Company created a car that ran on ethanol made from hemp, Prosniewski says. “We think that if we jump on the bandwagon, we can help solve important climate issues by incentivizing people to cultivate hemp. Right now, there’s no one else doing what we’re doing.”
Daniel Higbee, The Hemp Blockchain’s CEO, cites other instances where hemp’s traction was halted too soon.
“The first American flag was made using hemp,” Higbee says. “Prominent people like the DuPont and Rockefeller families didn’t want hemp to take hold because there would be no need for petroleum, wood, and other [lucrative] materials.”
What’s more, Prosniewski describes the approach that The Hemp Blockchain is taking as similar to the concept of the “chicken and the egg” because the hemp industry is young and continually evolving.
“We’re providing both at the same time,” he says. “While we can’t do it overnight, what we can do is take steps to bring hemp into the future.”
Prosniewski points to plastic waste, which remains a global issue. According to the United Nations, about 400 million tons of plastic waste is produced worldwide each year. Of that, less than 10 percent is recycled, according to National Geographic.
“If we can chip away at that by incorporating five or even ten percent of hemp into plastic production,” Prosniewski says, “that’s a big plus.”
So, how exactly do he and Higbee hope to do this?
The Hemp Blockchain is currently developing what the company calls a “blockchain-native supply-management solution for the industrial hemp industry.” Once the project goes live later this year, it will leapfrog traditional supply-chain approaches in the agriculture sector by harnessing technology.
Some ways the company hopes to do this is by providing carbon offsets, credits, and cryptocurrency tokens to hemp farmers. There are also talks of making carbon-credit NFTs, which can serve as a side hustle for the farmers. They’d receive a bonus every time they plant hemp and incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) throughout the process.
The company plans to “track and trace” hemp through every stage of production, from seed to the final product, while providing a marketplace for participants to exchange goods and services directly using smart contracts, fiat, crypto, and carbon credits.
“Once the seed goes into the ground, we’ll have the capacity to collect data in real-time on different variables—like the weather—and also keep track of how much carbon is being sequestered. We’re following the product all the way.”
“We think what we’re offering will become the standard,” Prosniewski says. “Once the seed goes into the ground, we’ll have the capacity to collect data in real-time on different variables—like the weather—and also keep track of how much carbon is being sequestered. We’re following the product all the way.”
According to the company’s LinkedIn page, “Industrial hemp can be processed into over 50,000 uses, including fuels, plastics, graphene, solvents, building materials, foods, and medicines and is also a powerful tool in the global effort to combat climate change because an acre of hemp can potentially sequester as much or more carbon as an acre of rainforest.”
“There are a lot of benefits to hemp,” Higbee says. “If we can grow it on a massive scale and supplement unnatural products [such as plastic] with natural ones, we can help stop things like deforestation and pollution. Plus, industrial hemp is renewable.”
While Prosniewski and Higbee won’t say exactly how many farmers are partnering with The Hemp Blockchain globally, they did confirm that the company’s current reach is approximately 75,000 acres worldwide with footprints in France, China, South America, Africa, Canada, and the United States.
According to a press release, The Hemp Blockchain was allocated 1,500 acres of land earlier this year by Four Front Environmental Services (FFES Environmental), an Indigenous-owned company based in Alberta, Canada, that partners on energy- and agriculture-related projects like The Hemp Blockchain. The allocation is part of FFES Environmental’s XPRIZE Phase 2 Carbon Removal Competition and will “bring growth and opportunity within the Treaty 8 communities for the 2022 season.”
Treaty 8 was a historic treaty signed in 1899 between Indigenous groups and the Queen of England, designating approximately 521,900 miles of land across Canada to 39 First Nations communities. The partnership will provide opportunities for Indigenous hemp farmers and their local communities.
“When we started working with these Indigenous groups, we agreed that we wanted to build a community and economy centered around hemp,” Higbee says. “We want to bring communities together while rejuvenating the soil.”
Higbee hopes to open the company’s first research and development facility in Utah next year and is regularly building relationships with new and existing farmers around the world.
“There is a lot of excitement for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Higbee says.
Prosniewski agrees. “We want it so that the farmer is the artist,” he says. “So far, the farmers we’ve talked to are excited to enter this next phase of our project and want to grow and be more efficient. Eventually, we’ll be able to match a farmer with a processor. If a company needs a certain type of hemp fiber grown, we can create the contract before the seed is even in the ground.”