Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Microbial quality of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) and flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) from plants to thermal insulation

Minna Nykter

Doctoral dissertation, June 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Agrotechnology.

Flax and hemp have traditionally been used mainly for textiles, but recently interest has also been focused on non-textile applications. Microbial quality throughout the whole processing chain of bast fibres has not previously been studied. This study concentrates on the microbial quality and possible microbial risks in the production chain of hemp and flax fibres and fibrous thermal insulations. In order to be able to utilize hemp and flax fibres, the bast fibres must be separated from the rest of the plant. Non-cellulosic components can be removed with various pretreatment processes, which are associated with a certain risk of microbial contamination. In this study enzymatic retting and steam explosion (STEX) were examined as pretreatment processes.

On the basis of the results obtained in this study, the microbial contents on stalks of both plants studied increased at the end of the growing season and during the winter. However, by processing and mechanical separation it is possible to produce fibres containing less moulds and bacteria than the whole stem. Enzymatic treatment encouraged the growth of moulds in fibres. Steam explosion reduced the amount of moulds in fibres. Dry thermal treatment used in this study did not markedly reduce the amount of microbes.

In this project an emission measurement chamber was developed which was suitable for measurements of emissions from both mat type and loose fill type insulations, and capable of interdisciplinary sampling. In this study, the highest amounts of fungal emissions were in the range of 103-105 cfu/m3 from the flax and hemp insulations at 90% RH of air. The fungal emissions from stone wool, glass wool and recycled paper insulations were below 102 cfu/m3 even at 90% RH. Equally low values were obtained from bast fibrous materials in lower humidities (at 30% and 80% RH of air). After drying of moulded insulations at 30% RH, the amounts of emitted moulds were in all cases higher compared to the emissions at 90% RH before drying.

The most common fungi in bast fibres were Penicillium and Rhizopus. The widest variety of different fungi was in the untreated hemp and linseed fibres and in the commercial loose-fill flax insulation. Penicillium, Rhizopus and Paecilomyces were the most tolerant to steam explosion. According to the literature, the most common fungi in building materials and indoor air are Penicillium, Aspergillus and Cladosporium, which were all found in some of the bast fibre materials in this study.

As organic materials, hemp and flax fibres contain high levels of nutrients for microbial growth. The amount of microbes can be controlled and somewhat decreased by the processing methods presented.

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Last updated 07.06.2006

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