Principal investigator: Brian George

University: Thomas Jefferson University

Industry partner: Hemp – Alternative

Peat moss has long been utilized in a variety of agricultural and horticultural applications because it offers many desirable properties, such as air porosity and water retention capabilities. It has been used as a growing medium for mushrooms and seedlings as well as a soil amendment to alter soil properties to improve plant growth. Peat moss is a fibrous material that consists of decomposed organic materials that take many years to develop, with each inch taking approximately 15 - 25 years to form. In addition to concerns over sustainability and how fast peat reserves are replenished, there are concerns about the consequences of sourcing peat. According to a report by the Washington Post, peatlands store a third of the world’s soil carbon and the process of harvesting and using peat releases carbon dioxide. In particular, the United States is guilty of peat moss consumption, most of which is obtained from Canadian bogs.

Reducing the dependency of peat moss offers a significant positive environmental impact. A hemp-based growing medium offers the opportunity to reduce peat dependency and support a new agriculture crop that can be used in multiple sustainable products. The purpose of this project is to develop a sustainable hemp-based peat replacement for use in some of the largest Pennsylvania-based industries, such as horticulture and mushroom farming. This project will allow students to work with industry experts to develop criteria to measure hemp material against the properties of peat moss, process harvested hemp materials in a lab, and develop a proof of concept to test in a live supply chain environment.