The performance characteristics of hemp materials have been known for generations. When Henry Ford built a car that used hemp materials in plastics to replace steel, the world was able to see a commercially viable application of natural fibers.
Unfortunately, only a few short years later, hemp was made illegal and the industrial hemp supply chain disappeared. This left hemp as an afterthought in the world of manufacturing.
But, today, the tables have turned.
Industrial hemp became federally legal with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. This opened the doors for hemp materials to find use cases across every industry imaginable.
Heartland is one of a few companies aiming to build a reliable industrial hemp supply chain that supports manufacturers across industry.
Building the first industrial hemp supply chain is a tall order. There is no blueprint for replicating this model, this means that the leaders seeking to build the industrial hemp supply chain are given a blank canvas. They can paint any picture they want.
Over the past 12 months, the differentiation between Heartland and its competitors has become clear. Each company in the industrial hemp space has a specific go-to-market strategy. Because of how different these market penetration strategies are, Heartland is finding itself sitting in a category of its own.
Other industrial hemp companies are focused on markets like animal bedding and textiles. Our team researched these markets during the summer of 2020 and felt that there were substantial roadblocks that make those markets unsuitable for an American industrial hemp supply chain.
Heartland’s executives landed on the 500,000,000,000 pound per year plastics industry. We saw this as a viable market penetration strategy because:
This told us that the plastics market was ripe for adopting hemp materials. But, when we started working in the plastics market, we thought that bioplastics were the solution. This would have meant that Heartland’s strategy was to convert hemp into a bioplastic that would be used as a replacement to the plastic that’s already used across industries.
We tried selling bioplastics to the plastics industry and failed. For many reasons, the plastics industry just didn’t want (or wasn’t ready for) bioplastics. After dozens of calls, we started to figure it out.
The plastics industry has pre-existing relationships and supply chains that have existed for generations. As a start-up, it was unreasonable for us to assume that we would be overtaking the raw material supply chains of some of the largest manufacturers on the planet.
We realized that if we wanted to successfully operate in the plastics industry, we needed to figure out how to align with the industries pre-existing relationships and supply chains.
This was the inflection point that brought us to our current market position.
Hemp-Based Materials Engineered As Additives for Polymers
The additives market was the clear answer to the problems within the plastics and manufacturing industry. Most companies know which resins they will procure over the next few years. What they’re open to changing are the additives that are used in those resins.
So, we started creating hemp materials that could be used as additives in commonly used plastics like polypropylene and polyethylene.
We started moving hemp fiber and hemp hurd to the plastics industry to create stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more sustainable compounded materials. But, at first, we didn’t get the results we wanted.
Plastics compounders were having a hard time adding hemp above 10%-20% load rates. We knew that if hemp materials could only make up 10%-20% of the total plastics weight, then plastics companies wouldn’t be able to realize the full strength, weight, cost, and carbon benefits of hemp.
This brought our team back to the drawing board. We were no longer focused on just providing plastics additives, we were focused on engineering hemp materials as additives for polymers.
For us, this meant:
Our focus on engineering hemp additives means that the plastics compounders that receive our materials are not just getting a big bag of hemp fibers and hemp hurds. They are getting hemp materials that were engineered to a specific size, moisture content, surface area, aspect ratio, and input format that is designed for their existing equipment.
These materials are then mixed with specific additives that bring out performance properties and allow hemp to be loaded into plastic at above 80% load rates. This significantly improves performance over a traditional hemp material.
We are working with dozens of plastics compounders that have been very specific about their needs and problems. So, we have modified the input format of our hemp materials to make sure that we’re creating solutions that can be used across all their customers.
We started with a focus on commonly used thermoplastics, and have quickly evolved into other types of polymers. We have customers focused on foams (polystyrene) and rubber (elastomers) that are testing our hemp materials for applications that will be used globally.
The expansion into other types of polymers is showing us that the additives market is much larger than just plastics. Foam and rubber applications are being developed over the next few months. And, within the next year, we will have supply chains that are focused specifically on hemp additives for the building materials market.
The world of additives extends into every raw material on the planet. Most of the industrial hemp companies that we “compete” with are focused on the $5B-$10B hemp industry. They think that they can take market share in the hemp industry by building a reliable hemp supply chain.
Plastics, rubbers, foams, building materials, metals, and woods are just a few of the market sectors we will be tackling over the next few years. We are focused on TAM’s (total addressable markets) that are in the trillions.
Every material you see around you right now can use hemp as an additive to enhance the performance properties and reduce the carbon footprint. It’s our responsibility to provide the world with the sustainable future that they need and deserve.
Join us on the journey as we build a world out of hemp.
— Heartland Team
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