Jack He

Institute analytical chemist Jack He provides analytical methodology development and chemical testing services to help speed decision making processes and quantifies the efficacy of products under development.

The Virginia Tobacco Commission has awarded nearly $400,000 to help pay for an analytical testing facility that will test the safety and marketability of agricultural products — including hemp — at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

The money, totaling $395,102, will help pay for a high-end Waters UPLC mass spectrometer that will “provide superior range and precision critical” for analyzing chemicals, said Allison Moore, spokeswoman for the Institute.

Estimated cost of the facility project is about $1.07 million, Moore said.

“The rest of the funding will be used to help purchase other lab equipment,” she said, adding that the Institute would cover the remaining costs of the project,

Institute Executive Director Mark Gignac said in a prepared statement that the project is one way to support growth and the region’s economic transformation.

“As new agricultural markets are on the horizon for interested Virginia farmers, we are excited to work with the [Virginia Tobacco Commission] to one day offer a critical testing component to ease entry into these markets and encourage their growth,” Gignac said.

Up-and-coming products requiring testing for safety and marketability include organic vegetables, wine, hops, barley and industrial hemp, Moore said. The lab will provide farmers accessible, affordable testing for pesticides, heavy metals, biological contaminants and more.

“The program aims to diversify the region’s agricultural outputs, promote agribusiness growth and increase agribusiness profitability,” Moore said.

The Institute hopes to serve as a catalyst for the hemp industry by offering affordable testing services, Moore said.

“Acquiring … certification of our lab-testing services will take our capabilities to the highest level and fulfill requirements by growers and industry for production of food crops and the emerging hemp industry,” said Scott Lowman, director of applied research at the Institute.

Industrial hemp is used to make health and natural food products, supplements, skin products, clothing, bioplastics, insulation and biofuel.

Moore said certification should be complete by September. The Institute’s existing two analytical chemistry labs will be reconfigured within its main building for the lab, she said.

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John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.

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