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Conn Center scientists and students study industrial hemp for energy solutions

The University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research is in its third year of growing industrial hemp and kenaf on campus as part of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program. They will harvest the 2018 crop at the end of October.

Industrial hemp and Marijuana are two different strains of the Cannabis Sativa plant. Industrial hemp seeds and leaves contain low levels (<0.3%) of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive agent found in Cannabis.

The Conn Center is in its third year of industrial hemp cultivation and research toward uses in biofuels and other valuable chemicals.

Industrial hemp is a highly renewable resource with applications for food, medicine, chemicals, and energy. Stalks, seeds, flowers, and oils all have potential uses with established markets in fiber and paper, meal and food oil additives, and a variety of chemicals that currently rely on the use of petroleum.

Conn Center scientists and engineers study industrial hemp for its potential in energy and chemicals in anticipation of industrial hemp’s legalization in Kentucky. With more potential uses being discovered, increased demand is expected to spur economic growth across agricultural, manufacturing, and financial sectors in the state. These areas have suffered with the downturn in tobacco revenue and loss of manufacturing jobs since 2009.

“Our students and faculty really enjoy working on this initiative,” said Biology professor Mark Running, a faculty member of Conn Center contributing plant development expertise. “The opportunity to work on a timely challenge to improve our economy and society is exciting.” David Schultz and Paul Himes are Biology faculty contributing biochemistry and soil microbe expertise, respectively.

The growing plants have been embraced by students at UofL, who frequent the hemp patches next to the Eastern Parkway viaduct for selfies. Pictures are always welcomed by the Conn Center, who appreciate how passionately people support legalization and exploration of hemp as a renewable resource while also bumping up their Insta game.

“Hemp research for renewable energy technologies is highly useful for local and regional industry, even those not related to renewables,” says Mahendra Sunkara, Director of Conn Center. “The theme of our biomass work is that we do not let anything go to waste.”

The Conn Center fosters the development of transformational concepts and accelerates transition from lab to pre-commercial scale. The Center maintains unique, state-of-the-art facilities for advancing scalable manufacturing R&D of solar, energy storage, biofuels, value added chemicals, and energy efficiency solutions.

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