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HARMONIA
Hemp as raw material for novel industral applications

In a previous European Union project, a new bright hemp variety was developed in which the fibre quality compared favourably with that of currently available hemp varieties. Processing of the new bright hemp revealed that the decortication was noticeably better and less energy was needed to isolate the fibres. Furthermore, the isolated fibres appear to have a better quality than that of commonly used hemp varieties. Based on these initial studies the hemp variety looks promising for European agriculture. In a combined RTD and demonstration project, the molecular basis of the high quality of this hemp will be determined to further improve the variety. In the RTD section, the cultivation, harvesting, processing and refinement of the new variety will be tested and optimised. Different qualities of fibre produced will be tested in biodegradable diapers, yarns and composites. To allow improvement of the new variety in the future, the molecular basis leading to the high fibre quality will be determined by physical, spectroscopic and molecular genetic analysis. This will allow the development of new hemp varieties in the future. In the demonstration section, the results of the RTD part will be implemented and commercial use of the variety will be initiated.

Objectives
The objective of this project is to improve the performance of the new bright hemp variety at all steps of the agronomic production chain. Growing conditions for seed multiplication, as well as for fibre production of the hemp variety, will be tested in the RTD part of the project in a number of European countries. Methods for harvesting raw plant material and isolation of fibres will be analysed and optimised. The fibre material obtained will be processed by various methods (including steam explosion). The chemical composition and physical characteristics of processed fibres will be determined and compared to a standard European hemp-fibre quality. The technical and economical applicability of the fibres in the production process will be analysed.
If the quality of the fibres of the new hemp variety meets the demands of the industrial partners, a demonstration section will be initiated within the project. The results of the RTD section will be implemented, modifications of the production lines made and prototypes of hemp-based composites, biodegradable diapers, and dry and wet spun yarns will be produced by the industrial partners.
Another objective of the project is to determine the molecular basis for the improved decortication and performance of the fibre. Detailed morphological, physical and chemical analyses of bast fibres will be conducted. Gene expression in bast fibre tissue will be analysed with DNA microarrays during various stages of development. Based on the obtained expression patterns and data from the physical and spectroscopic analysis, a sub-selection of genes, whose functions are correlated to fibre quality, will be identified. These genes will be isolated and the function of the genes determined. Some of these genes will be used to produce transgenic plants that will elucidate the role of these genes in fibre quality; this knowledge will lead to hemp plants with a modified fibre quality.
The knowledge obtained in the project will enable the future design of new custom-made hemp varieties for tailor-made industrial applications.

Results
The project was successful in reaching a large number of deliverables and milestones. A production chain for the new hemp variety was established. Applications for the fibre have been investigated and developed, and Vandijke Semo, Hemcore and Funder will incorporate the results of the project into their production processes.
Due to problems with fibre supply in the beginning of the project the research into textile applications was not as successful as planned. The partners William Ross & Co. Ltd and Linificio e Canapificio Nazionale - Zignago S.p.A will require additional research to implement the project results into their production line.
The properties of the Chamaeleon variety have been well researched. On a scientific level a lot of insight into the molecular and technical behaviour of fibre development has been obtained. This is visualised by the large list of scientific publications at international conferences and in print, informing the hemp industry and researchers about the aims of the Harmonia project.

Classified in NON-FOOD PRODUCTS

Scientist responsible for the project

Dr MARCEL TOONEN
P.O. BOX 16
6700 AA Wageningen
Netherlands (The) - NL

Phone: +31 317477001
Fax: +31 317418094
E-mail: marcel.toonen@wur.nl

References

Project ID QLRT-1999-01505
Organisation Plant Research International B.V.
Area 5.2
Start date 01 February 2000
Duration (months) 48
Total cost 4 816 528 €
Total EC contribution   2 489 702 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project   http://www.eu-harmonia.org

The partners

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