Hemp truly is one of the most versatile resources on the planet. The seeds are widely used in animal feed and other related industries, while the stems can be converted into fibres with a wide array of potential uses.
Hemp actually contains some of the strongest fibres found in nature, hence its widespread historical use in clothes, ropes and sails, to name but a few. The introduction of cheaper artificial fibres, coupled with hemp’s association with cannabis, threatened to kill the industry entirely, but as researchers scramble to find eco-friendly materials, it may be due to make a comeback.
MultiHemp, an EU-funded project focused on researching the potential of hemp as a renewable material, has already shown some promising results. One of the project’s partners, CMF Technology, has created a system whereby hemp fibres are mixed with an undisclosed, patented material in order to create fibreboards and other building materials that are 100% natural. These boards can then be used in the construction of floors, walls and even furniture, effectively reducing the environmental impact of the overall build.
Other partners of the project are looking into methods of applying hemp as a form of insulation, as an alternative to potential harmful fibreglass batts. As it turns out, hemp is particularly well-suited to this task for a number of reasons.
Firstly, while fibreglass insulation becomes largely ineffective when wet, as well as creating the perfect breeding ground for mould and mildew, hemp is capable of absorbing moisture with little to no effect on its insulating properties.
Furthermore, hemp is surprisingly fire-resistant and relatively safe should it somehow catch fire. Fibreglass, on the other hand, will not only burn but will also release toxic fumes and carcinogenic substances. Most industry experts now agree that fibreglass poses an unnecessary risk to respiratory systems.
Got a problem with bugs? Well, the little critters are held at bay, at least to some extent, by the presence of hemp insulation. They cannot penetrate the dense fibres of the insulation, keeping them locked safely outside.
If you needed any more reason to be intrigued by this concept, take a look at the manufacturing process of the two main options. Fibreglass insulation makes use of a rare mineral called Boron, which at the current rate of extraction could be depleted in as little as 60 years. On top of that, the manufacturing process itself results in various hazardous gases entering the atmosphere and our lungs, which is obviously not good for us or the planet.
Hemp has none of these issues, largely due to its status as a ‘low-input’ crop. This basically means that growing the plant requires very little; their root systems are adept at handling bouts of drought, and the plant needs very low levels of nitrogen in order to survive. This means that hemp farms use substantially less water than other crops, and require fewer fertilisers. As it grows, it will also have the added benefit of absorbing a certain amount of carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, further accentuating its green potential.
There is still one major hurdle to the widespread production of hemp insulation. In the US, it’s illegal to grow commercial hemp for use in insulation and other applications. Where hemp is used within the states, it has to be imported from other countries and comes packaged with very strict legislation controlling the concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinoids) allowed within the plant, THC being the chemical that gives cannabis its psychoactive properties.
Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.