Super-strong and sustainable, hemp just might be the key to the green revolution – and some of the finest hemp in the world is grown in Southern Alberta. Calgary-based HEMPALTA is using state-of-the-art agricultural technology to harness the natural strength and versatility of hemp, dramatically improving how we make many of the things we need. HEMPALTA engages in commercial-scale hemp processing to deliver a variety of consumer products and to supply processed hemp for industrial applications.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT HEMP?
Humans have used hemp for millennia to make clothing, food, rope, paper and building materials. Not only is it one of the world’s most environmentally friendly crops, but it can be used to replace or strengthen less sustainable materials, including asbestos, plastic, steel and fiberglass.
It uses less water to grow than cotton, it’s naturally resistant to insects, it stores atmospheric carbon and it improves the soil it’s planted in by introducing nutrients into the soil. “Because it weaves sustainability into any product made with it, hemp is the right material for where we are today as a planet,” said Darren Bondar, HEMPALTA’s President and CEO. “As one of the fastest-growing plants on earth, hemp positively supports both the supply chain and the environment.”
The global market value for industrial hemp is projected to grow from US$4.7 billion in 2020 to US$14.6 billion in 2026.
AGTECH IN THE HEART OF THE CITY
HEMPALTA’s agtech plant is centrally located in Calgary.
“For us, the decision to locate in the city is all about establishing the HEMPALTA brand, and letting consumers know they can make a small difference to the health of our planet by using our products,” said Bondar. “Educating consumers is our number-one priority today.“
The new 13,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art separation, processing and packaging operation features the HempTrain™ Advanced Processing System developed, designed, engineered and manufactured by Canadian Greenfield Technologies Corp. The HempTrain™ system enables the processing of hemp straw bales into three streams: long, strong, intact bast fiber, clean size-specified hurd and nutrient-rich green microfiber – at the rate of around 2,000 pounds an hour.
Whereas other technologies essentially pulverize hemp stalks into short, ragged, dusty fibers that retain little of their natural strength, the HempTrain produces long, clean, structural fiber of various lengths (generally six to 30 inches).
While every part of the hemp plant is useful, HEMPALTA’s focus is on the plant’s fiber, which has a vast range of commercial uses.
● Bast fiber from the outer layer of the stalk has a high tensile strength. That makes it desirable as an environmentally responsible structural fiber for engineered applications, such as reinforcing synthetic and glass fiber for construction. Using hemp reduces greenhouse gas, and, because hemp bast fiber is around 30 per cent more absorbent than straw and has a load-bearing capacity 3.5 times that of straw, it’s a solid choice for erosion, stormwater and sediment control.
● Hurd (sometimes called shiv) is the short, brittle, wood-like fiber in the core of the plant stem. It’s used in hempcrete (for insulation and construction), composites, paper and fillers.
● Green microfiber is the bio-nutrient-rich concentrate of leaf and flower material. Rich in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber it’s a sought-after ingredient for hemp-infused beverages, pet food and beauty products.
WHERE THE PRAIRIE MEETS THE WORLD
As an agribusiness entrepreneur, Bondar knows that Calgary’s status as an agricultural and farm hub is important to HEMPALTA’s success. From its beginnings more than a century ago, Calgary has been known for its agricultural production. Today, southern Alberta boasts nearly 70% of Canada’s irrigated land, and is a quick drive from downtown’s skyscrapers to the rich farmlands that surround the city.
As Western Canada’s largest distribution hub, Calgary is connected to the rest of the country – and the world – by two railway lines, a major international airport, and transcontinental highways. In fact, ground transportation makes 50 million people accessible within 24 hours; by plane, cargo can get anywhere in the world within 48 hours.
“Calgary doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves as a centre of agtech and agribusiness,” said Bondar. “One of my goals is to shine a light on our strengths as a prime agriculture hub for Canada.”
CONSUMER PRODUCTS FOR THE PLANET
As consumers become more aware of the sustainability of the products they purchase, more people are transitioning to hemp-based products. HEMPALTA currently works within a wide range of industries, including pet care, food preservation, garden care and hemp-infused manufactured goods. Their aim is to show people that there are small, easy steps they can take to improve the world that will wind up having a big impact. Here are a few examples of HEMPALTA consumer products currently available:
● Hemp-Fresco™ food preservation pads might be relatively small, but they’re helping solve one of the world’s most pressing problems: food waste. “Canadians waste more than $30 billion in food every year,” said Bondar. “That’s just about 40 per cent of all food produced. Hemp-Fresco can help ordinary households save money and do their part to reduce those numbers.” Hemp-Fresco pads are filled with 100% natural hemp hurd, which absorbs liquids and ripening agents – preventing premature spoiling and helping food stay fresh longer. They’re safe for composting and can be disposed of in green bins.
● The only whole, hemp-core granule litter on the market, HempyCat™, is biodegradable, flushable and eco-friendly. It outperforms other plant-based cat litters made from coconut, wood, paper, wheat or corn, which are generally made from pelletized dust and binder. As hemp is naturally antibacterial, the litter also provides all-important odor control.
● HEMPALTA often points to the industry adage that says there are 25,000 commercial and industrial uses for processed hemp. Now, they can add one more: giraffe bedding. At the Calgary Zoo, the giraffes – with their infamously delicate skin – are currently finding the HEMPALTA Premium Hemp Bedding soft and comfortable. Engineered without additives, chemicals or fragrance, this bedding is targeted to owners and caretakers of chickens, horses, goats, reptiles, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and other small animals.
BETTER BY DESIGN
“Hemp is the raw material of the green revolution and the key to creating a healthier planet for all of us,” said Bondar. “As one of the only commercial-scale hemp processors in North America, we’re passionate about making the world better – cleaner, healthier and more ecologically sound - for future generations.”
This commitment begins at the ground level; HEMPALTA works only with farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. Since the company’s production facility effectively converts all hemp feedstock into high-value product streams, it operates as a near-zero-waste manufacturing facility.
Bondar wants to take a proactive, deliberate approach to address the critical issues facing society. “Corporate social responsibility is in our DNA: we’re building our company from the ground up to be a force for good. We’re looking after our people, our community and our planet. By doing so we join other companies in the hemp space, and maybe we can inspire customers and suppliers to join the movement in the future.”
Bondar is the newest entrepreneur in a family with deep roots in the Calgary business community. One of his grandfathers founded the furniture store that bears the family name; the other started Calgary Packers and invented one of the first refrigerated trucks to safely transport Alberta beef outside of Calgary. He believes that the city is a welcoming environment for people willing to take risks.
“There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in Calgary,” he said. “The more active you are in the entrepreneurial community, the more you realize how welcoming and supportive the people here are.”
Bondar began his journey as an entrepreneur in 1999, when he founded Watch It!, which grew to become a national retail chain with 21 locations across Canada. He then founded Spiritleaf, the leading recreational cannabis retailer in Canada in terms of store count, running the company until its sale in 2021.
Bondar has won many industry awards, including Business in Calgary Magazine’s 2021 Leaders Award, an Alberta School of Business retail award and multiple Canadian franchise awards of excellence. He was a 2021 finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Prairies competition.
“We are on the cusp of something big,” said Bondar. “It might take us 5-8 years to build out our supply chains and educate customers and companies, but hemp is, frankly, a miracle crop. It can be used in so many ways. We’re currently using non-sustainable materials, like petrochemicals, cement and paper, to create what we need and want. Hemp is a regenerative crop that can help us improve the earth every time we use it.”
Bondar sees lots of opportunity to expand HEMPALTA’s reach and its product line. “We’re really proud of the products we currently manufacture, and we’ll be working hard in the near future to grow our markets for them.”
He also realizes that the remarkable versatility of hemp creates a vast range of additional market opportunities. “Processed hemp can be used for so many things, from making car panels and kayaks, to strengthening seat belts, to building sustainable structures, or as a key component in beauty and personal care products. And that’s just a very few of its uses.”
As the company’s tagline goes: Hemp to better the planet.