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U.S. Rep. Cartwright Announces $1 Million National Science Foundation Grant for Hemp Innovation and Cultivation

Award will fund the development of a Pennsylvania-based Industrial Hemp Engine to manufacture bio-based products

Today, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Ranking Member of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the National Science Foundation has awarded a $1 million Regional Innovation Engines Development award to Hazleton-based Vytal Plant Science Research for the development of an Industrial Hemp Engine as part of its newly launched Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program.

Vytal Plant Science Research (VPSR) is a non-profit biotechnology corporation that is partnering with Penn State University, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Luzerne County Community College, Lackawanna College, Emory University, DON Processing, the Team PA Foundation, and several farms and private industries throughout the state that are already cultivating, brokering, and manufacturing hemp-based products.

The award will fund the further development of a Pennsylvania Industrial Hemp Engine that will support the manufacture and deployment of innovative, bio-based products for application in green building construction, packaging, fabrics, renewable energy and land remediation.

“It is essential that Northeastern Pennsylvania commercial concerns get every penny of our fair share of economic development dollars being invested, at work right here in our area,” Rep. Cartwright said. “This grant, made possible by the CHIPS and Science Act, will boost an industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and is again presenting opportunities for new businesses, farm income, good-paying jobs, and climate friendly, environmentally sound products.”

Development of this NSF Hemp Engine will require genetic research, domestic propagation of industrial hemp seed, cultivation, harvest, and processing to build up a supply chain to meet the already existing and growing global demand for bioengineered renewable and recyclable products needed to reduce greenhouse gases, eliminate plastic waste, and improve soil health and water quality. This will require investment in research labs, greenhouses, commercial farms, industrial decortication facilities, bio-based product manufacturers, and workforce education programs.

This engine will build upon and integrate the good work already underway by organizations that have been leading the development of this industry and translational research for the past several years, including the work of the Pennsylvania Hemp Steering Committee members, the Department of Agriculture, agricultural extension educators, as well as the genetic research being undertaken by Penn State Harrisburg in partnership with Vytal Plant Science Research.

"We are very grateful for this NSF Engine Development Award and look forward to building this industry together with many partners,” said Tom Trite, CEO of Vytal Plant Science Research. "Vytal Plant Science Research is honored to have been selected to lead this initiative and we look forward to getting started.”

“We are pleased to participate in this public-private partnership and to have a prominent faculty researcher at our campus in a leading role on a project that will have positive economic and environmental impact. The project will contribute to many applications of hemp research and provide important opportunities for students and faculty across Penn State University to engage in research with societal impact,” said Vahid Motevalli, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at Penn State Harrisburg.

“Ben Franklin Technology Partners welcomes the opportunity to invest in new and novel intellectual property that creates jobs through commercialization of industrial hemp in the Commonwealth around plant genetics, growing technologies, harvesting, processing and implementation of raw materials into various industrial sectors,” said Ken Okrepkie, Regional Manager at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of NEPA.

The U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program catalyzes and fosters innovation ecosystems across the United States to:  

  • Advance critical technologies like semiconductors, artificial intelligence, advanced wireless, and biotechnology;
  • Address pressing national and societal challenges;
  • Cultivate partnerships across industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice; 
  • Promote and stimulate economic growth and job creation; and
  • Spur regional innovation and talent. 

Each NSF Engine can receive up to $160 million to support the development of diverse regional coalitions of researchers, institutions, companies and civil society to conduct research and development that engages people in the process of creating solutions with economic and societal impacts. Through the process, NSF Engines will train and develop the local workforce and grow regional innovation ecosystems throughout the U.S. 

The NSF Engines program provides up to 10 years of funding to establish each NSF Engine, with the option to get two years of funding for planning before the official launch of an NSF Engine. 

"These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines," said NSF Director Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan. "These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

For more information on Vytal Plant Science Research and the Industrial Hemp Engine, visit