The biggest potential for hemp plants in promoting a culture of eco-sustainability is their use in building products. Hemp can be used to replace or supplement a wide variety of traditional building materials, mainly wood and concrete.
Researchers in France have developed a way to use hemp fibers to create a natural cement with many admirable qualities. Their creation, Hempcrete, can be used in block-form in conjunction with a wooden frame construction, or mixed directly into a structure, similar to working with stucco or cob.
Hempcrete is comparable in strength to traditional concrete but weighs one-eighth as much, which makes building with it much easier. Additional advantages of Hempcrete building materials are:
- Its thermal properties: Hempcrete helps regulate both high and low temperatures.
- Its low maintenance: Hempcrete is naturally mold and rodent resistant.
- Its longevity: Hempcrete has a long lifespan and is easy to repair.
- How sustainable it truly is: Hempcrete is made out of plants, which grow back.
Building with renewable, biodegradable materials equates to a healthier planet. While the hemp plant grows, it turns carbon dioxide into oxygen and also traps carbon dioxide within itself. Structures built with hemp products are carbon sinks, meaning they absorb more carbon than they release. Traditional concrete, on the other hand, is notorious for releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide when it is made.
Hemp particle board can be made from both the short fibers from the core of the hemp stalk and the longer fibers found on the outer portion of the stalk. In terms of insulation, only the outer fibers of the hemp stalk are used. Hemp building insulation is being used consistently in newer construction and has great potential as an eco-friendly solution for retrofitting buildings.
Other Uses for Hemp
Hemp is also being used to make clothing, ropes, paper, wax and much more. Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids humans need and are arguably the single most healthy food source on the planet. They can be pressed to extract hemp oil, which can be used as fuel or as a natural sealant for wood. Hemp is also an active ingredient in beauty products and cosmetics.
Another incredible use of hemp is in the automotive industry. Do you remember Henry Ford’s hemp body car? Due to the steel rationing of WWII in 1941, Henry Ford and George Washington Carver constructed a car body made out of soybeans and hemp.
Although Ford’s hemp car never took off, today’s automakers are paying closer attention to hemp, as it can be used to make plastics and other composites that are stronger and lighter than their traditional counterparts. In fact, a Canadian company, Motive Industries, designed the world’s most eco-friendly car, the Kestrel, whose entire body is made of hemp.
Humans are at a point where practicing a sustainable lifestyle is of the utmost importance. Just as the hemp plant was an intricate part of early man’s existence, I believe it will become an intricate part in ours, as more people start to embrace how versatile it really is.