RESEARCH PROJECTS

In order to meet the given requirements of a standardized cannabis production in Germany, German industry and research organizations need to network with experienced partners in this field to close existing knowledge gaps.
Through innovative research projects, we are helping to lay the foundations for a dedicated cannabis production chain in Germany.

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MULTIPURPOSE PLANT HEMP: EXTRACTION OF BIOMASS, LIGNIN AND PLATFORM CHEMICALS FOR THE PRODUCTION OF BIOPOLYMER MATERIALS (MULTIHEMP)

Hemp is a prime example of a "multipurpose plant" and is ideally suited for a sustainable circular economy in the context of the bioeconomy due to its versatility and the possibility of using the whole plant (grains, leaves, flowers, stems, roots). Hemp has been cultivated for centuries in Germany for fibre, food, oil production and as a medicinal product. Interest in hemp for a range of industrial applications has increased in recent years due to the superior quality of its fibres in a number of industrial applications. In addition to fibre, hemp also provides high quality seeds and phytocannabinoids with developing markets for oils and vegetable proteins. These processes generate a number of by-products that have not been recycled to date.

Aim of MULTIHEMP is to use hemp and by-products of hemp fibre production as feedstock in the context of a biorefinery. The project goal includes an agricultural biorefinery that converts locally produced biomass into platform chemicals, lignin, cellulose, phytocannabinoids, oils and proteins, demonstrating the full-scale use of the hemp plant. Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), furfural (Fu) and lignin can be produced from the lignocellulose-rich material obtained. HMF can be used to produce polyesters such as PEF (polyethylene dicarboxyfuranoate) for packaging or fibres. HMF itself, like Fu, can serve as a substitute for formaldehyde in resins, e.g. for chipboard, polyamides such as nylon 6 and nylon 6,6, or as an additive in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Lignin can be added to resins as a filler material, or can be split into phenols to become components of resins themselves. Another application is the conversion into high-quality carbon materials for electrodes and supercapacitors. The processes for the processing and extraction of cellulose lignin using microwave technology and the extraction of platform chemicals using biorefinery, including the necessary analytical methods, are to be developed and optimised. The platform chemicals obtained will be used to develop and produce thermoplastic biopolymers, which will be further developed into fibre-reinforced/fibre-based materials. From these biopolymer materials, new biobased, degradable materials can be obtained for various end applications. For this purpose, the processing data and parameters for the production of the new materials are recorded and used for process optimisation. The industrial upscaling of the developed methods and materials can be demonstrated by the participating companies as well as by the pilot plant available at the University of Hohenheim. It is expected that the developed materials will show a significantly improved ecological footprint compared to conventional materials, as regional raw materials and by-products from hemp are obtained and used.

SCHNITZEL, HEMP TOFU, PASTA & CO FROM THE REALLAB HEMP - PROTEIN-BASED FOOD FROM REGIONAL HEMP CULTIVATION (TASTINO)

The increasing world population and urbanization as well as the growing income level lead to an increasing global demand for meat and animal food. However, current dietary habits are considered unhealthy and production patterns unsustainable. A global dietary shift with an increase in the intake of plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods is seen as key to improving human as well as planetary health. The overall goal of TASTINO is to develop innovative processes and technologies for the production of protein-rich, healthy foods from regionally grown hemp. As part of this project, innovative foods based on hemp protein will be developed in collaboration with farmers, regional processors, representatives of the catering industry and food retailers (LEH) in Baden-Württemberg and made available to end consumers as regional products in the retail sector. The market for meat substitute products is still relatively small, but will grow strongly in the future. Europe leads the meat substitute products market globally, with a 40% share of the total market, which is forecast to reach €2.4 billion by 2025. While tofu, tempeh, seitan textured vegetable proteins are typical meat substitute products on the market, hemp protein is characterized by a desirable, chewy, meat-like texture. Hemp proteins are several types of proteins found in the hemp plant that have a high biological value and are composed of 23 essential amino acids. Unlike meat-substitutes made from imported soybeans, hemp protein-based meat-substitutes allow the sustainable benefits of plant-based products to be fully realized. Therefore, TASTINO contributes to meeting the strong demand for high-quality, protein-based, regionally produced food, developing sustainable nutrition concepts, increasing the self-sufficiency of the population in Baden-Württemberg, and creating sustainable jobs in the field of agriculture and food production along the value chain in various sectors.

DEVELOPMENT OF A TOPICALLY APPLICABLE CREAM FOR THE SKIN DISEASE ROSACEA BASED ON THE INGREDIENTS OF PHYTOCANNABINOID-RICH CANNABIS (RECREATE)

Rosacea is a multifactorial disease. The concrete causes are still being discussed. Among other things, neurogenic inflammations and inflammatory reactions caused by bacteria and hair follicle mites on the skin can be considered. Currently available drugs cannot completely cure the disease. CBD and all other phytocannabinoids, especially CBC, CBD-V, THC-V, and CBG, have a significant anti-inflammatory effect, which has already been proven in several scientific studies. The entourage effect is even more substantial in the extract's terpenes and flavonoids present in the whole extract. Pain-relieving, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are also confirmed. 
The project's overall objective is to develop a topically applicable cream against the skin disease rosacea, which is based on the ingredients of phytocannabinoid-rich cannabis (PCR). For this purpose, it is necessary, on the one hand, to convert the ingredients into an activated form by decarboxylation and, on the other hand, to obtain the other highly volatile, temperature-sensitive ingredients such as terpenes during the preparation of the plant material both during drying and from extraction. The concentrations and composition of active substance spectra required for efficacy must be developed and tested in cell indication models. This will involve feedback on the drying and extraction processes and the development of the appropriate process required. 

DEVELOPING LIGHTENING CONCEPTS AND LOW STRESS TRAINING (LST) METHODS FOR TO GROW TERPENE AND CANNABINOID RICH CANNABIS FOR ACTIVE PHARMACEUTICAL INGREDIENTS (DELIGHT)

Plant based pharmaceuticals have been consumed as fresh, dried or processed plants. The end result is a plant derived or synthetically produced active ingredient for curing ailments. The quality and stability of these active ingredients is critical for correct and safe dosage of the medicine. This is a challenge as plants are impacted strongly by their growing environment. This project focuses on improving the use of cannabis as a plant raw material for high-end pharmaceutical products. The technical challenges to be solved are related to the light spectrum (the colour of light), light distribution, longevity, stability of light was well as to finding cannabis varieties, which yield a high level of the desired active ingredients for the pharmaceutical end product

The aim of the project is to develop an LST (low stress training) method that increases the terpene level in the plant material while at the same a high CBD content is ensured.

DEVELOPMENT OF INNOVATIVE GROWING MEDIA; PHYTOMONITORING SENSOR SYSTEMS (SOIL-PLANT) AND A PROCESS-BASED PLANT GROWTH MODEL TO CONTROL THE GROWTH AND YIELD IN CANNABIS (PHYTOSENS)

An important goal in cannabis cultivation is, in addition to high yields, to generate uniform plants of appropriate pharmaceutical quality. As with all biological systems, the characteristic expression (phenotype) and thus the quality characteristics of the plant depend, besides the genotype factor, on environmental parameters. Essential environmental factors, that influence plant growth, are: light quantity, light quality, duration of illumination (photoperiod), growing medium, supply of water and nutrients, CO2 concentration in the air, temperature and humidity. Up to now, these influences have been controlled independently of each other and are based on the experience of the producers, which does not immediately ensure consistent, standardized quality from batch to batch. In order to meet the legal requirements in cannabis production, producers must design their production systems in such a way that the production of a standardized raw material can be guaranteed through the use of appropriate technologies and processes.

The aim of the present project is to develop a process using innovative substrate and phytomonitoring technology, which enables the necessary holistic control of the growth of cannabis under controlled conditions to obtain a standardized raw material for medical end products. The chosen approach for the necessary control of the growth and development conditions focuses on the best possible water and nutrient supply and, consequently, on the highest possible automation of these relevant input factors for the growth of cannabis. This includes the development of innovative growing media for cannabis, which are adapted to the varying requirements of the plant in the different stages of development. At the same time, a plant-soil monitoring unit is to be developed that monitors the current state of the plant at all times, from which recommendations for action for the producer can be derived with regard to the adaptation of environmental factors. The data obtained are used to create a process-oriented plant growth model for cannabis, which can describe and predict the reaction of the plant to changed environmental parameters.

DEVELOPMENT OF A SELECTION SCHEME FOR MEDICAL CANNABIS BASED ON THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT (SELWAK)

Cannabis sativa L. is one of the oldest crops used as fiber, nutrition and as therapeutic and recreational drug. Cannabis is known for its psychoactive compound THC, but therapeutic potential of medical cannabis (THC < 0.2%) is much more diverse due to non-psychoactive compounds such as cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. The term ‘entourage effect’ refers to the therapeutic effect due to the interaction of these substances, which act synergistically instead of a single compound.

This project aims to develop and optimize a selection scheme for the selection of genotypes based on the entourage effect for the treatment of insomnia, depression, anorexia and muscle pain. Currently, breeding schemes in medical Cannabis research are mostly focused on selection of individual cannabinoids. However, the combination of different compounds for final medical efficacy can lead to unique outcomes. The breeding lines selected in relation to entourage effect of medical Cannabis are currently unexplored, furthermore there are limited studies available about the application of entourage effect in neuropathic diseases.

DEVELOPMENT OF AN INDOOR-CROPPING SYSTEM AND A NANOFORMULATION FOR A CANNABIS GENOTYP (GENCAN)

In Germany, up to 5% of the population suffers from neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is conventionally treated with the use of antidepressants and anticonvulsants. In this sense, Cannabis Sativa L. could be used as an effective alternative for patients with neuropathic pain. However, cannabis pharmaceuticals for the indication of neuropathic pain is still not approved in Germany. Thus, in order to generate the raw material necessary for the medicament development, it is paramount to further understand the causal relationships between a plant genetic and an indoor cultivation system to achieve the required CBD-rich raw material output. Hereby, it is among others, necessary to standardize the fluctuating content of the main active components of the cannabis plant (THC, CBD) and other cannabinoids in the genetics available to date, and to clarify the interactions between genetics and environmental factors with regard to cannabinoid levels.

THC-FREE EXTRACTION AND PRODUCTION OF WATER-SOLUBLE HEMP EXTRACTS

 

Cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol) harbor enormous potential not only in medicine, but also in the food, cosmetics and wellness sectors. There is already a lot of interest in adding cannabinoid extracts to a number of food products such as beverages, coffee, high protein products and chocolate. So far, the instability of CBD and other cannabinoids in these food matrices has been one of the greatest challenges for industrial (further) processing. By developing ready-to-use formulations that are a) stable and b) free of THC, Becanex aims to become the main supplier of cannabinoid extracts for the food industry.

Becanex (Berlin Cannabis Extraction) is a high-tech food startup that specializes in the extraction of cannabinoids and other phytochemicals from industrial hemp. The company produces high-quality CBD extracts and develops products in the food and cosmetics sectors for its customers. The basis for this is the specially developed and patented one-step extraction process. This is particularly gentle, which means that far more of the valuable ingredients are retained than with conventional processes.

In the near future, Becanex would like to significantly expand the market potential of its products. In order to achieve this, the company will develop product formulations for the food industry that remain stable in a wide range of common processing methods. Becanex will also ensure that these formulations are THC free. To this end, a method for the selective removal of THC from the hemp extract will be developed. With the approval of the ZIM funding, the company plans to complete the development by the end of 2022. In addition, Becanex is open to collaborations with other companies to develop new products.