Hemp has been an extremely important resource throughout human history. To illustrate, the Chinese were making paper out of hemp over 2,000 years ago, and scientists believe people have been making textiles from hemp for over 8,000 years. Today, we are seeing a resurgence in the use of hemp fibers for building and construction materials.
Hemp is a renewable resource with near-endless applications, and scientists and researchers have been searching for new ways to utilize the plant. While the environmental benefits of hemp-derived materials are impressive in themselves, they also demonstrate great promise in construction applications.
What are Industrial Hemp Fibers?
Unlike CBD hemp that is grown for its flowers, industrial hemp is grown primarily for its stalks. More specifically, it is cultivated for the fibers contained within the stalks. These fibers have long been recognized for their usefulness. Importantly, we have figured out countless ways to process hemp fibers into paper, plastic, textiles, and building materials. Because research tells us, “fiber derived from hemp is one of the strongest and durable forms of natural fiber” on earth.
While the overall utility of industrial hemp is a major selling point, the fact that it is a highly renewable resource makes it even more attractive. In modern society, it is well known that we have some harsh realities to face with issues like global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels. Hemp can help alleviate these problems by reducing our dependency on nonrenewable resources. Even more, certain practices like hemp carbon farming actually help clean up the environment.
For the best fibers possible, industrial hemp crops are harvested during the flowering phase. At this point in a hemp plant’s life cycle, the fibers are at their strongest. Once harvested, manufacturers have a variety of methods for separating valuable fibers from other plant materials. They also sort through and divide different types of hemp fiber.
Hemp Bast and Hemp Hurd
After harvest, hemp stalks are broken down into two distinct fibers: hemp bast and hemp hurd. The longer fibers found on the outside of the stalk are known as “bast,” while the shorter inner fibers are referred to as “hurd.” In most hemp crops, the bast comprises around 25% of the fiber material, while the hurd makes up the other 75%.
Since people started cultivating hemp thousands of years ago, the focus has been almost exclusively on bast. However, with the advent of modern technology, people are finding more and more creative uses for hemp hurd.
Hemp bast is used to make many of the materials which industrial hemp is known for. Taken from the outside of the stalk, bast fibers are long and durable. As such, these fibers are traditionally used to make rope, textiles, and paper. For more modern applications, people have begun integrating bast into construction materials like lumber.
Hemp hurd has long been considered a useless byproduct of bast production. Nonetheless, in recent years, people have discovered several new applications for hemp hurd. Of these, construction materials present a promising new path for utilizing hurd – especially with things like hempcrete and hemp insulation.
Building with Hemp Lumber
With a growing interest in hemp, manufacturers are looking for ways to use it as a supplement for traditional lumber. Not only does hemp show great promise as a viable lumber source, but it can also be grown far quicker than any tree. On average, hemp plants are ready to harvest in 4 months. Conversely, tree species used for lumber take anywhere from 20-80 years before they can be harvested.
A very interesting product to recently hit the market is known as “hempwood.” This innovative new lumber was recently engineered by a company named Fibonacci. To create hemp wood, they took a process used to make bamboo lumber and tweaked it for hemp fiber. Utilizing hemp bast, Fibonacci came up with a product that is 20% harder than oak wood.
In construction, hempwood can be used anywhere that hardwoods are traditionally used. For the most part, hempwood is utilized on the interior of homes on things like hardwood floors and cabinetry.
Hemp particleboard is another new construction material made from hemp. Unlike hempwood, particleboard is made from leftover hemp hurd. It is made by mixing hurd materials with glues and resin and then forming them into board shapes. As seen with most particleboard, hemp particleboard is not load-bearing and should only be used for applications such as furniture.
What is Hempcrete?
Hempcrete is a highly versatile construction material that is made from hemp fibers. Because hempcrete is made from hemp hurd, it utilizes a part of the plant originally regarded as waste. Hempcrete is made by mixing hurd with lime, as well as other natural materials like sand. After blending, the mix is poured into casts of various shapes – such as bricks, blocks, and panels.
Hempcrete benefits the environment in several ways. For starters, hemp helps lessen the impacts of global warming, while traditional concrete manufacturing contributes to CO2 emissions. This is because hemp farms pull CO2 from the atmosphere, while concrete manufacturing plants expel excessive heat and carbon. Even more, hempcrete is 100% recyclable and can be used as a fertilizer after it is removed from a building.
Hemp Bricks and Hemp Blocks
Hemp bricks and blocks are made from hempcrete. To make these building materials, manufacturers simply form hempcrete into appropriate-sized casts. After they are formed, hemp bricks and blocks have a variety of applications with both internal and external walls.
Builders value hemp bricks and blocks because they breathe well and offer excellent insulation. Even more, they are more elastic than traditional concrete. As such, hemp bricks and blocks may be better suited for environmental stressors like earthquakes.
Of the new hemp building materials to recently hit the market, hemp insulation is perhaps the most promising. As seen with most hemp-based construction materials, hemp insulation not only functions extremely well but is also beneficial for the environment.
Hemp insulation stands out from traditional insulation and other fiber composites by the way it is made. According to the Innovative Building Materials website, “Hemp insulation is a composite material but one that is very eco-friendly. Instead of consisting of 51% plant fibers and 49% plastics and chemicals [like most fiber composites], hemp insulation contains as much as 92% hemp and about 8% polyester fibers.” As such, hemp is more environmentally friendly than other fiber composite insulations like those made from coconut or wood.
When compared to traditional fiberglass insulation, hemp insulation doesn’t disappoint. As seen with hemp blocks, insulation made from hemp has excellent moisture-wicking capabilities. This trait makes hemp insulation quite effective when dealing with water and humidity. While fiberglass insulation easily gets bogged down and ruined when it comes in contact with water, hemp insulation easily dries. This fact allows hemp insulation to properly regulate humidity levels within buildings. It also makes hemp insulation more durable than fiberglass insulation.
Hemp insulation works wonderfully when it comes to basic heat and cold retention. In fact, hemp insulation meets and exceeds building codes in every region of the world. Therefore, even if you live in the arctic, hemp insulation will keep your home warm and toasty in the depths of winter. Finally, nearly any contractor on earth would rather work with hemp insulation than fiberglass. Because, fiberglass is notorious for getting into your skin and causing an awful itching sensation.
What Does the Future Hold for Hemp Building Materials?
Since hemp was federally legalized in 2018, the industry has been primarily focused on CBD production. While we are huge fans of CBD, High Grade Hemp Seed is also excited to see new interest in hemp-derived building materials. Not only are hemp construction materials good for the environment, but they are also extremely functional.
Due to taboos and unjust drug laws surrounding cannabis, it seems we lost touch with the hemp plant for a time. However, modern technology is looking at hemp in all-new ways and revitalizing this relationship that has existed for nearly 10,000 years. Just as hemp paper played a critical role in human history, we are discovering new ways to solve contemporary problems with hemp. As our attention continues to focus on saving the environment, there is no doubt that hemp will grow increasingly important.
As we continue on the path we are on, you can rest assured that hemp, and High Grade Hemp Seed, will play a critical role in creating better industrial hemp genetics and even more environmentally friendly buildings.