Fiber, Seed, and Building Materials
2019 is being called the Year of Hemp. With industrial hemp becoming federally legal in December 2018, hemp has become an extremely common topic in the news, on social media, and in the legislature. Many people are interested in hemp, but are unsure what it is exactly used for and how they can personally use hemp derived products.
Hemp has been used for thousands of years and is considered to be one of the oldest domesticated crops. Hemp was used in Ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures for fiber, textiles, rope, and paper. The use of hemp spread across Europe and then to North and South America until it was one of the most common crops and was used to manufacture a wide variety of products including food and building materials.
In 1937 a Popular Mechanics Article listed over 27,000 uses for industrial hemp. Experts currently estimate that there are over 50,000 uses for the hemp plant. The industrial hemp plant is one of the most versatile and useful plants on earth. Currently some of the most common uses of industrial hemp are fiber, seed, and building materials made out of hemp biomass.
Hemp fiber has been used for over 8,000 years. It is one of the world’s oldest and most well known textile fibers and has been used for clothing, canvas, fabric, ropes, upholstery, rugs, and shoes. Hemp fiber sails were used by the early explorers, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag on hemp fabric, and Levi Strauss made his first jeans out of hemp fiber.
Hemp fiber is extremely long and considered one of the strongest and most flexible and versatile fibers known to mankind. In the 1980’s technological advancements made it possible to remove the lignin from the fiber without compromising its strength. This allowed hemp to be spun and used alone or blended with other kinds of fiber such as silk and cotton.
Hemp fiber provides many benefits over cotton and synthetic fibers. Hemp fiber is more durable, softer, and more absorbent than other fabrics. Hemp fiber holds color better and “wears in;” the more you use hemp fiber the softer it becomes. Hemp fiber is extremely porous, making it more breathable and cooler in the summer, yet warmer in the winter due to the air trapped in the fibers. Hemp textile fiber is bacteria resistant and 50% more UV ray resistant than cotton.
Growing hemp fiber also has many benefits over growing cotton fiber. Hemp grows extremely fast and can produce an entire crop in 100 days compared to the full growing season that cotton requires. This means hemp can produce higher profits and yields for the farmer. Hemp requires about half of the water needed for cotton cultivation, and is also naturally pest and weed resistant so farmers don’t have to invest in pesticides or herbicides. All of these benefits mean cultivating hemp is a cost effective and economically beneficial alternative to cotton.
Hemp seeds are another common use of the hemp plant. Hemp seeds are extremely nutritious, and have been a staple food across the world for centuries. Hemp seed is currently used in a variety of products for human and pet consumption. Hemp seeds, often referred to as hemp hearts, are rich in healthy fats, proteins, amino acids, and other minerals. Hemp seeds contain over 30% fat and are one of the best sources of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp seeds are also incredible protein source since 25% of their total calories are from high quality protein. In comparison, chia seeds and flaxseed are about 16-18% protein. Two to three tablespoons of hemp seeds provides 11 grams of protein which is similar by weight to beef and lamb.
Hemp seeds are also a wonderful source of Vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, phosphorous and other minerals. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, cooked, or pressed into hemp oil. Many companies have begun adding hemp seeds to granola bars and other health foods.
Research has shown that hemp seeds can have potential health benefits as well. Studies using animals have shown that hemp seeds may reduce blood pressure and heart disease. Other research has shown that hemp seeds and hemp oil may help with dry skin and eczema and may help with PMS and menopause symptoms. Due to the high fiber content, whole hemp seeds (that contain the husks) may also aid in digestion.
Hemp Building Materials
One of the most popular and intriguing uses of hemp is for building and construction materials. The first home built with hemp materials was completed in August 2010 in North Carolina and now these new green building alternatives are quickly gaining in popularity. The stalk, leaves, and other plant parts are collectively called hemp biomass. This biomass can be used to make almost any type of building material including insulation, pressed “hempwood,” roofing, flooring, plaster, paint, concrete, drywall, etc.
Hemp building materials are economically and environmentally beneficial. They are mold and pest resistant, self-insulating, weather resistant, water proof, and extremely durable. Buildings made out of hemp materials are more energy efficient and cost effective. They create less waste and are easier to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
One of the most popular hemp building material is hempcrete. Hempcrete is created using the stalk of the industrial hemp plant. The inner part of the hemp stalk, often called hurd or shives, is ground and mixed with lime and water to produce this incredibly durable but lightweight building material. The hemp shiv has a high silica content which out of all natural fibers is unique to hemp. This high silica content allows it to bind extremely well with lime to form the hempcrete material.
Hempcrete can be casted into walls between or around structural support or manufactured into prefabricated panels or concrete type blocks. This amazing and environmentally friendly building material can be used in a wide variety of construction projects to build homes, businesses, retaining walls, sheds, barns, or any other project that uses traditional concrete. Hempcrete looks like concrete but it is more durable, does not require expansion joints, and is much more environmentally friendly. Hempcrete is a carbon negative building material and actually draws carbon out of the air and actually becomes stronger over time.
Along with being incredibly durable, naturally insulated, and mold and pest resistant, hempcrete is actually waterproof and fireproof! There have been many demonstrations using butane torches that show hempcrete withstanding extreme temperatures from fire without buckling, popping, or catching on fire, unlike traditional concrete.
Hemp based building and construction materials have been used around the world for centuries, but is now making a comeback and gaining worldwide notoriety. Many homes and buildings in Canada and Europe are made out of hemp building materials, and the trend is starting to be seen in the United States as well. Many companies like LVGI’s subsidiary, Emergent Design-Build Solutions, are interested in hemp building materials and are beginning to build with these sustainable materials.
And So Much More…
Industrial hemp has vast potential and has incredible economic and environmental benefits. Using hemp is good for humankind as well as the Earth. Biofuel, CBD, and Bioplastic are other extremely common uses of industrial hemp that we will examine in detail in our next blog post.There are tens of thousands of uses for industrial hemp and researchers are constantly discovering new ways to use this highly versatile and sustainable plant. The future for industrial hemp is unlimited and we are excited to be on the cutting edge of this new industry.