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America’s Largest Hemp Processing Center to be Built in Texas

Dallas-based startup Panda Biotech is developing an industrial hemp processing facility that is poised to be the largest hemp decortication center in the United States and among the largest in the world.

The company says it has secured to rights to purchase a 255,000-square-foot facility in Shallowater, a small town 12 miles northwest of Lubbock, where it plans to deploy the “most technologically advanced, highest capacity and first-of-its-kind” equipment ever used to separate the soft fibrous core of the hemp plant from its tougher, woodier stalk.

By using its patented “hemp gins,” which will be based on smaller versions of proven decortication technology used throughout Asia and Europe, Panda Biotech says it expects to process more than 130,000 tons of Texas-grown industrial hemp into textile fiber and cellulose every year.

To ensure the “highest-quality fiber,” it will only process hemp stalks harvested before the maturation of the seed and flower, which are the parts used in cannabidiol (better known as CBD) products.

“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,” Scott Evans, executive vice president of Panda Biotech, said 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,” Evans added. “As a result, hemp will be a game changer for both agriculture and industry for generations to come.”

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To pave the way, Panda Biotech says it has entered into conversations with both key stakeholders in the Texas High Plains region—including local farmers, academic institutions and elected officials—and potential buyers of its finished products.

It’s also assembling a “first in class” advisory board with some of the country’s top industrial hemp, textile and cellulose experts and agronomists.

Texas’s hemp industry is positioned to grow after Governor Greg Abbott signed a law in June authorizing the production and manufacture of industrial hemp crops in the state, albeit pending final approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which it anticipates in the coming weeks.

Last week, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said the state will issue hemp-farming licenses as early 2020. Marijuana, another derivative of the Cannabis sativa plant, remains illegal in Texas. To qualify as industrial hemp and not marijuana, the products must contain less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” users crave.

Analysts project the global industrial hemp market to balloon from $4.6 billion in 2019 to $32 billion by 2022.