Panda Biotech, an industrial hemp fiber and cellulose company founded by Dallas entrepreneur Bob Carter, announced it’s opening one of the largest hemp decortication centers in the world in Shallowater, a town located northwest of Lubbock.
The 255,000 square foot facility, called “Panda High Plains Hemp Gin,” will separate fiber and cellulose from hemp stalks harvested before the seeds and flowers mature, which are the plant parts used in the CBD and marijuana industries. Panda’s hemp gin is based on smaller versions of decortication tech, which has long been in use across Asia and Europe and is expected to process more than 130,000 tons of Texas-grown industrial hemp annually, according to a statement.
“After more than a year of due diligence—which has included an analysis of the hemp fiber and cellulose industries in the People’s Republic of China, various European countries and Canada—we have concluded that the processing of hemp stalk for industrial uses will be the next multi-billion-dollar business in the United States,” said Scott Evans, executive vice president of Panda Biotech, in a statement. “Hemp fiber and cellulose will help manufacturers meet the needs of today’s eco-conscious consumers who increasingly require environmentally friendly products and services. As a result, hemp will be a game changer for both agriculture and industry for generations to come.”
The U.S. hemp industry in its current form is young, having been made possible through 2018’s federal Hemp Farming Act which was then incorporated into the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill signed into law at the end of last year. Texas House Bill 1325 was signed into law this June, paving the way for companies in Texas, such as Panda Biotech, to produce and manufacture industrial hemp crops pending the final approval of the state’s hemp regulations by the USDA, which is expected in the next few weeks. The U.S. legalizing industrial hemp is expected to give the industry a significant boost from $4.6 billion in 2019 to $32 billion by 2022, according to a statement. Prior to the Hemp Farming Act, industrial hemp had been banned since the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.
By announcing a major processing facility, Panda Biotech might spur growth in the nascent industry, Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gary Joiner told the Dallas Morning News. He noted that area farmers were interested, but cautious, with some stating they would wait for a more mature market to ensure demand for the specialty crop. Other farmers told Joiner they are already researching equipment needed and if the newly legalized crop could be insured. One regulatory step for farmers growing hemp is a mandatory background check.
Industrial hemp is valued in manufacturing applications for its durability, rapid growth, and environmental sustainability and is used in producing textiles, building materials, paper products, automobile composites, nanomaterials, bioplastics, and finishing products like caulking, sealants, varnishes, and paints, according to a statement. Research is also finding electronic applications with hemp-based supercapacitors as a less expensive alternative to current materials in rechargeable batteries for smartphones and electric cars.
Along with the study of the hemp industry around the world, Panda Biotech also worked with stakeholders including the local farming community, academic institutions, and elected officials in the region and established business relationships with potential customers of its hemp and cellulose raw material. Its advisory panel includes experts in industrial hemp, textile, and cellulose, as well as agronomists experienced in seeding, cultivating, and harvesting industrial hemp.
While industrial hemp may be a brand-new U.S. market, Panda Biotech’s leadership has experience in developing, financing, constructing, and operating large-scale industrial facilities for natural gas, solar, hydroelectric, and biomass energy projects. Its leadership has developed 22 projects representing around $14 billion in invested capital since 1982.
Panda Biotech founder Bob Carter also founded Panda Power Funds, a private equity firm in the clean energy space, and Panda Energy International, a power plant construction company.
Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.
Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.