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New process for wonder plant

Posted on October 3, 2000

Process to boost hemp

America’s first president George Washington grew it some years before convict Australia exported it while motoring tycoon Henry Ford made and ran a car from it. Now a Melbourne business has revolutionised a technique to process it.

The substance is industrial hemp, which has a staggering array of uses.

But age-old, cumbersome processing technology, combined with the false impression that industrial hemp is marijuana, has hampered its use.

Adrian Clarke, 53, and his 89-year-old father-in-law Charles Mierisch have invented world-first, top secret technology to reduce hemp processing from three months to one hour.

“My father-in-law came up with the basic idea and we developed it together, “ Mr. Clarke said.

“He invented the absolute core technology but it’s been a long way from the few bits and bobs he knocked up in his workshop. Working that up to a commercial process has been a hell of a leap.”

Mr Mierisch, who has an engineering background, developed the technology after Mr Clarke researched hemp’s myriad uses for a client.

The technology bypasses all the traditional steps used in hemp processing, which have been mechanised since early last century.

“And this produces a better quality product, and it gets all the fibres rather than half of it, which happened with the old-fashioned system.

Mr Clarke spent six heart-wrenching but fruitless years searching the world for financial backing.

“In Australia, nobody understood … they understand cotton and wool but they had no idea.

In Europe they understand it but don’t have the investor environment and in the United States it’s still illegal.

So Australia came perilously close to losing what is forecast to become at least a $50 million-a year business from 2001.

“I was about to set up in Europe and had just come back to collect my family,” he said.

But the Australian Stock Exchange’s Enterprise Market for new small-to-medium business urgent him to stay.

Last December it introduced him to credit analyst Steve Burrows, from Corporate Investor Relations, which was the founding member in the Enterprise Market.

Mr Burrows helped Mr. Clarke establish a company, Fibrenova, and raised $1.25 million.

Hemp is increasingly being used for a range of products.

“We have a market mixing it with wool and we have a market in making car parts instead of using other fibres,” Mr Clarke said.

Fibrenova will plant its first commercial crop on at least 150ha at secret locations across Victoria once the ground dries from recent rain.

Copyright © 2002, Herald Sun. All rights reserved.