Hemp is slowly entering the cement and construction industries

hempitecture hemp cement 3

Hemp had to overcome a few challenges to enter existing and established markets

Cement is cheap, easy to work with, and has been the standard of modern construction for decades, but the global cement industry is also responsible for 8% of carbon emissions.

In an effort to mitigate its carbon footprint, various cement and concrete producers around the world recently announced a roadmap to achieve net zero concrete emissions by 2050, and to reduce emissions a quarter by 2030.

One way to do this is with hemp concrete, which locks in the carbon instead of releasing it, according to Tommy Gibbons, co-founder and director of Hempitecture.

His company, based in Ketchum, Idaho, manufactures hemp insulation and received a grant from the Department of Energy's Innovative Crossroads program for hemp insulation research and development.

“Many other materials of plant origin can have comparable qualities but in a less sustainable way and with higher carbon emissions compared to hemp. "

Hemp concrete is made by mixing hemp seed with lime. The mixture becomes a moldable substance which is shaped into a block, creating a lightweight material used for walls and insulation.

Despite its ability to fight against pests, molds, and even fires thanks to its thermal mass, hemp construction is still little used, but its market is waiting to break through. It's a nascent industry and there is still a long way to go, explains Roland Gyallay-Pap, one of the founders of the Boulder-based Roky Mountain Hemp Build association.

“All industries today are set to become more sustainable,” adds Gyallay-Pap. "

“The construction industry has set itself the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and there is great interest in alternative construction methods. The problem is, in parts of the United States there is a stigma around hemp itself, which takes time to overcome. "

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There is another problem. The United States legalized hemp production just three years ago, after passing the 2018 Farm Bill.

Persistent stigma aside, and limited education about the plant, cultivation of hemp in the United States since legalization has focused on its production to extract CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids. While the CBD industry is in a glut, the undeveloped industrial hemp supply chain has remained confined to a niche market.

Yet interest in growing hemp for purposes other than the production of CBD and other cannabinoids continues to grow.

The manufacture of hemp for building materials has garnered considerable interest and expanded in countries like Canada and Europe, and some believe the United States will experience a similar trend.

“European countries are doing similar things for newer buildings, and the US government seems to be interested as well,” Gibbons said.

"There are signs that this could be the direction for the industry as a whole."

Compared to the United States, where there are around 200 million hemp houses, in France there are around 2 million, according to Gyallay-Pap.

The idea of ​​using hemp as an alternative method of construction was born in France in the 1980s.

“The country was looking for materials to use to renovate centuries-old buildings that had been constructed with Portland cement,” explains Roland Gyallay-Pap.

French executives found hemp to be the best option because of its reliable, lightweight insulation and its ability to retain heat without the risk of mold or pests.

France has never banned the production of hemp, adds Mr. Gyallay-Pap. As the industry has grown and countries like Canada and other countries in Europe decriminalized hemp years ago, they have also taken the lead in the hemp construction market.

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Last year, the Netherlands-based hemp maker and the largest independent hemp producer in Europe, HempFlax, acquired German producer of natural fiber insulation, Thermo Natur GmbH & Co.

Last August, the Canadian company Global Hemp Group signed a contract to purchase more than 800 acres of land in Hayden, Colo., To launch its HAIZ project, which aims to develop affordable housing made from materials. of hemp over the next two decades.

Respond to growing demand

Hemp has had to overcome a few challenges to enter existing and established markets.

But its potential is emerging, and Mr. Gyallay-Pap and his business partner Eamonn McNaughton, co-founder of Rocky Mountain Hemp Build, have seen an increase in the number of customers interested in incorporating hemp into their homes and their buildings.

Located in the country's oldest hemp-producing state, McNaughton and Gyallay-Pap work with several Colorado hemp growers, but access to lime is difficult due to the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic. .

“Hemp is a big part of the material, but lime is the other big part,” McNaughton said.

Due to the cost of shipping limestone from overseas, he and Gyallay-Pap found a lucrative business strategy by incorporating a small amount of conventional Portland cement into their hemp concrete recipe.

While sustainability enthusiasts might scoff at the idea, the duo claim that the carbon footprint of shipping more limestone from overseas far exceeds the inclusion of a small amount of cement produced in such a way. conventional.

“The world of concrete is a big, big world,” Gyallay-Pap said. "We will be the little ax that cuts the big tree".

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