The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a team of scientists at Penn State University a two-year, $1 million grant as part of the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards with the goal of advancing the Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Engine (PAIHE) project. The goal of PAIHE is to further develop the hemp industry using bio-based products and is spearheaded by Vytal Plant Science Research in collaboration with Penn State University, Emory University, and a myriad of organizations from both the public and private sectors.
“The launch of the Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Engine reflects Penn State’s commitment to groundbreaking research and to fostering economic development that enriches and empowers our commonwealth, both of which are at the core of our mission as a 21st-century land-grant university,” said Penn State President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi.
The bio-based products that PAIHE hopes to develop will be used in not only green building construction, but also fabrics, land reclamation, packaging renewable energy, and others. These also include textiles and fibers; oil-based products; flooring, paints, and varnishes; bioplastics and sustainable packaging; soil remediation; and bioplastics and sustainable packaging.
PAIHE is one of 44 projects being funded by the NSF Engines Development Awards, which includes more than $43 million total to help communities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico with the goal of spurring local technology innovation and development. The awardees include organizations from academia, businesses, nonprofits, and a myriad of others, and like Penn State, each awardee receives up to $1 million over a two-year period.
“From farming and agricultural technologies, research and manufacturing, innovation leadership and workforce development, community development and policy advocacy, and a fully integrated mission of diversity and inclusion, the engine will connect established and emerging regional stakeholders to address today’s challenges and build opportunities for a new generation of hemp agriculture and hemp innovation in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Sairam V. Rudrabhatla, who is the principal investigator on the project, and is also a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Science, Engineering, and Technology.
Hemp is classified as a botanical class of cannabis grown expressly for medical or industrial needs. Recent numbers show the hemp market in the United States was estimated to be worth $4.74 billion in 2022 with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 17.1 percent between 2023 and 2030. The demand for hemp spans multiple industries, including animal care, food & beverage, and personal care, and includes products such as oils, fiber, seed, and others.
How will the NSF Engines Development Award help contribute to the PAIHE project during their two-year funding period? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!