Can we freeze hemp to preserve it?
That’s what U.S. firm Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE: APD) is teaming up with a researcher from the University of Virginia to find out.
The collaboration between the company and Bryan Berger, an associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, will test how cryogenic freezing can be used to preserve industrial hemp and its cannabinoids.
And while cryogenic freezing might bring to mind images of Harrison Ford locked in a block of carbonite, or the creepy rumours that Walt Disney’s preserved body is sitting on ice somewhere — it’s actually quite a common industrial practice.
Cryogenic freezing uses liquid nitrogen to freeze products and preserve them so they can be defrosted while keeping their full flavour and quality. Liquid nitrogen is really, really cold — around minus 196 degrees Celsius — and will freeze things like blueberries or shrimp almost instantly. Products can then be easily shipped and stored in a freezer until they’re needed for snacks or a cocktail shrimp ring.
Air Products specializes in cryogenics and has labs in the U.S., Europe and Asia where it tests if products can be frozen and acts as a consultant for biotech, food and chemical processors. As a self-declared leader in the industrial gasses and cryogenic technology applications space, Air Products said it was up for the challenge of testing if it can freeze hemp.
“We believe this research will demonstrate the many benefits cryogenic freezing can have for the industrial hemp industry,” Michael Himes, Air Products cryogenic technology lead, said in a statement Monday. “Our experience and advanced technology have provided game-changing solutions for those in the biotech and food industries, and we look forward to collaborating with those in the industrial hemp industry to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their processes.”
There are several ways Air Products said it expects liquid nitrogen will be able to help hemp production, harvest, processing, extraction and packaging.
- Freshly harvested crops can be flash frozen to prevent biomass degradation or mould. According to Air Products, the plant’s chemical content would also be preserved.
- Liquid nitrogen can be added to a processing mill to reduce oil stickiness that can slow down the overall procedure.
- Liquid nitrogen can be used in ethanol extraction to keep the product below negative 80 degrees Celsius, which the company says is more cost effective and efficient means of extraction.
- Dripping liquid nitrogen into a final packaged product will temporarily kick out the oxygen in the area, which can then be sealed to protect from oxidation and preserve shelf life. This is a common practice in canning.
The University of Virginia’s Berger will work at Air Product’s Pennsylvania lab to test how cryogenic freezing affects the quantification, chemical composition and profiles of cannabinoids found in hemp crops. At the university Berger is part of the industrial hemp research program and works with state, private and non-profit partners to develop new approaches for hemp processing.
“The team anticipates studying cryogenic processing profiles that will address knowledge gaps and provide best practices to maximize value immediately transferrable to hemp growers and processors seeking to optimize their product yield,” Berger said.
Top image via Deposit Photos