Principal investigator: Ronald Kander

University: Thomas Jefferson University

Industry partners: Eastern Hemp Company, LLC

Injection molding of polymers and polymer-based composite materials is one of the most common manufacturing processes to make common industrial and consumer products. The development of new materials with improved mechanical and physical properties would expand the use of this process into more high-performance, high-value applications. Developing advanced fiber and particulate reinforced polymer composites is a common way to meet these advanced material needs. However, composites are often not environmentally sustainable, are difficult to recycle, and are typically not biodegradable or compostable.

Throughout history, the hemp plant has been recognized as a sustainable, renewable source of material with a host of industrial and consumer applications. Currently, hemp is underutilized as a raw material in the US due to nearly a century of laws and policies prohibiting, or severely limiting, its industrial use. Since these laws and policies have changed, the use of hemp as an industrial raw material will continue to increase in the US due to our interest in sustainable, high-value consumer and industrial products made from renewable resources.

In this project, we will work with Eastern Hemp Company to develop a line of hemp reinforced polymer composite injection molding pellets. These pellets will allow manufacturers of industrial and consumer parts to make products that are biodegradable, sustainable, and have superior mechanical and physical properties compared with traditional polymer-based composite materials. The work will involve processing locally grown hemp and incorporating it into biodegradable polymers (polylactic acid, or PLA) via lab-scale compounding, extrusion, and pelletizing processes. Resultant composite pellets will be injection molded into parts that will then be tested to measure their mechanical and physical properties. Finally, we will demonstrate that these injection molding pellets can be manufactured economically in Pennsylvania using locally grown hemp biomass as a feedstock.