The German presence was very strong at the Bioresource Hemp Expo, which
isn’t too surprising considering that it was held in their
country. Nevertheless, Germany has seen a dramatic surge of interest in
cannabis hemp, and this is reflected in the many new businesses and
innovative products that have seen their origins in Germany over the past
year. This is even more remarkable considering that no agricultural hemp is
presently being grown in Germany as it is prohibited by law.
Hanf in Deutschland
Michael Karus of the nova-Institute gave an overview of the
past, present, and potential future of German hemp cultivation. The
earliest findings of hemp fabrics in Europe are from around 800 BC. Hemp
seeds have been used as a food staple since the Middle Ages, and
descriptions of the plant’s medicinal properties date back to the 16th
The Hemp Heydays
Hemp experienced the same progression in Germany as elsewhere in the
world. Its production level peaked in the seventeenth century as it was
used for many aspects of the shipping and sailing industry. In the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries hemp use declined as mechanized cotton
processing allowed cotton to displace the labour-intensive hemp, and wood
pulp replaced hemp pulp as a source of paper.
Hemp cultivation saw a brief period of resurgence during both World Wars as
it was revived to replace lost fibre supplies from overseas. After World
War II, hemp rapidly lost ground to the competition of synthetic fibres and
Banned but for Beets
In East Germany, the cultivation of hemp survived into the late 1960’s, and
researchers were able to breed several new varieties which combined high
fibre yield with low THC content. These varieties are now considered lost
in Germany, although they may survive elsewhere.
In 1982, West Germany amended the federal narcotics act to outlaw all
cultivation of hemp, with few exceptions. To this day, these amendments
effectively ban the commercial cultivation of hemp in Germany.
Only one agricultural use of hemp in Germany has been exempted from this
general prohibition, that being as a pollen insulator in the commercial
breeding of beets. No other plant forms such impermeable hedges and
minimizes undesirable outside pollination.
Rediscovering Hemp Paper
The rediscovery of hemp in Germany has come about largely through the
publication of The Rediscovery of Hemp Cannabis Marihuana in
September 1993. This book contains a German translation of Jack Herer’s
The Emperor Wears No Clothes, along with a historical review of hemp
in Europe by Mathias Brockers, and an evaluation of the industrial uses of
hemp by the Katalyse Institute.
The publication of this book also spurred the development of a hemp market
in a very practical fashion: it was printed on hemp paper. At the
Bioresource Hemp expo, Jurgen Schlegelmilch of Schneidersohne Paper
explained how he accepted the challenge of obtaining hemp pulp and
producing paper from it for this venture.
Schneidersohne Paper is Germany’s largest paper distributor, and now
carries a complete line of quality hemp papers. Schlegelmilch recounted how
the trade association of the German paper industry had told him that they
would be printing their next annual report on hemp paper, because they
recognized that it was a truly innovative product.
In February of 1994, an association of German farmers, agro-cooperatives,
and entrepreneurs formed Die Hanfgesellschaft (The Hemp Society) as
a means of promoting the reintegration of hemp into farming and industrial
The society’s most visible venture is the Hanfhaus (Hemp House)
chain, which markets hemp-based textiles through its retail outlets in six
major German cities. The textiles are predominantly manufactured in
The research and development in these areas has been carried out without
government funding. The federal agencies responsible for these areas are
not willing to fund hemp projects because hemp cultivation is considered
However, as a result of the rapidly growing public interest in the use of
hemp, and pressure from German farmers, the federal government seems likely
to lift the ban on farming low THC hemp in the near future.
Another apparent reason for the lack of support is that the federal
agricultural bureaucracy do not want to support a competitor to flax, which
has received DM 60 million of public funding without the hoped-for
breakthrough. However, since much of the newly developed flax technology is
applicable to hemp as well, government actions might be of some benefit to
hemp cultivators despite their intentions.
Fram Flax to Hemp
One technology based upon flax was actually presented at the Bio-Resource
Hemp Symposium. A company named Bahmer Maschinebau presented their
design for a two-step hemp processing technology originally developed for
Most of the other technological innovations introduced at Bioresource Hemp
were related specifically to hemp. For example, the fact that hemp cannot
be easily separated into fibres of consistent quality without specialized
machinery is a major obstacle to their use in a wider range of
applications. Two new technologies which overcome this problem were
presented by German organizations.
Steam Explosion & Ultrasonic Separation
Kai Nebel of the German Institute for Applied Research presented
their innovative new way to separate hemp fibres. The system uses the power
of a steam explosion to separate the fibres, producing a cotton-like
material which can be spun using existing technology for cotton. The
material becomes a fine yarn that retains some of hemp’s characteristics,
such as its high strength and low elasticity.
Another alternative to traditional fibre separation techniques was
presented by Hugo Zimmer for a German company called Ecco
Gleittechnik. Their process involves exposing the hemp stalks to
powerful ultrasonic waves while they are under water.
Ultrasonic waves have the effect of causing local pressure differences in
the water, which in turn creates tiny bubbles of gas which implode during
compression. The implosion of the bubbles generates extremely high pressure
and temperature in a small area, and this breaks the hold between the
fibres and the lignins that hold the hemp fibres together.
The result of this process is that hemp fibres can be extracted from the
stalks without the need for intensive chemical or mechanical
processing. The resulting fibres are also quite white, so that little or no
bleaching is required for most applications.
A side benefit is that the “waste product” of extracted lignins can be used
as a raw material for further products, such as organic glues for fibre
boards or even as fertilizer.
Ecco is currently in the planning phase for a full-scale
demonstration project of this process.
Karl-Heinz Hensel of Ecco Gleittechnik explained that Ecco is actually a
manufacturer of special lubricants. They became involved in hemp through
their efforts at trying to deal with the problems of common brake
linings. Ecco wanted to replace the asbestos and other environmentally
harmful fibres used in brake linings with plant fibres, and ultimately
developed plant fibre products which were able to meet the necessary
As a result of their experiences with plant fibre processing, they were
able to realize the potential of hemp and other plant fibres in a number of
Cannabis Cars & Cement
Hensel used the example of an automobile to show the many different uses of
plant fibres. Aside from roof and inside door coverings and sound
insulation for the engine, they could also be used for underseal, gaskets
and brake linings, principally as reinforcing fibres. Plant fibres could
also be used in parts of the vehicle where it is important to have tensile
strength combined with flexibility, such as bumpers and supporting parts.
Another use for plant fibres is in building materials. Plant fibres are
suitable for heat insulation purposes, and hemp and flax materials have
excellent insulating and flame retarding properties. Plant fibres can also
be used as reinforcement fibres in aerated concrete, and as dry mortar for
interior and exterior plaster.
One of the most important potential markets for industrial plant fibres is
as a replacement for asbestos in fibre cement. Fibres extracted using
Ecco’s ultrasonic process seem well suited to this application because of
the absence of contaminating particles which can otherwise weaken cement.
Hemp Oil Detergent
Perhaps the product which most belonged in a category of its own was
presented by Max Olschewski for Sativa. Sativa is a German company
which has developed a laundry detergent produced from hemp oil and yeast
combined in an innovative biochemical process. The low surface tension of
hemp oil based detergents increases their laundering power over
conventional detergents, and allows the removal of persistent stains such
as grease, ink and blood.
Potential future application of this technology include the detergent’s use
as an industrial cleaner and, because of its rapid biodegradability, in the
remediation of soil contaminated with petroleum products.
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