Hemp: the world's grooviest building material?

Is there anything you can’t do with industrial hemp? Turn its fiber into paper or cloth? Yep. Eat its oil or seeds? You can do that, too. Smoke it? Well, you can, but you won’t get the desired effect: industrial hemp has only trace amounts of THC (the active ingredient in hemp’s cousin, marijuana). One thing you definitely can’t do: grow it in the United States. Despite the multiple potential uses (almost all of which create a much smaller environmental footprint than conventional materials), it’s still illegal to farm industrial hemp here.

It is legal, however, to import hemp and use it in material development, so innovators aren’t completely closed off from the possibilities created by this plant. North Carolina-based Hemp Technologies, for instance, has developed HemPcrete, a building material made from hemp plant chips and a lime-based binding material. In addition to having a much lower carbon footprint from production than traditional concrete, HemPcrete also acts as a CO2 “sponge,” according to Hemp Technologies co-founder David Madera: the lime literally absorbs carbon dioxide from the surrounding air. The hemp also acts as a natural pest resistant, keeping bugs at bay.

Madera and partner Greg Flavall have demonstrated their material’s use in their home state, but they’d like to bring it Southern California. Specifically, they’d like to use HemPcrete in the construction of “a 500-square-foot structure at the ruins of Knapp’s Castle near Santa Barbara.” They’ve pointed out the advantages noted above, as well as the high insulating factor of the material, but the decision to move forward rests with Santa Barbara County, which has to declare the material safe before the builders can proceed.

A hemp building in a (relatively) prominent location would go a long ways towards showing that no one will get high walking through it (because we can’t allow that to happen!). More importantly, though, such a demonstration project would provide a great showcase for the resource savings produced by this material. Let’s hope Santa Barbara’s planners can look beyond the material’s relationship to the demon weed!

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Image credit: Gregory Jordan via photopin cc