The hemp plant is one of the most versatile plants on earth. For many years it was used to make textiles, however, in recent years growing demand for a particular cannabinoid from the hemp plant has shifted how a lot of people in society view hemp, and that, in turn, has shifted the focus of entrepreneurs and investors in regards to the hemp sector.
Cannabidiol (CBD), which the hemp plant is very rich in, has increased in popularity to such an extent in recent years that it is now searched for online more often than its cannabinoid counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) according to Google Trends. Below is a graph demonstrating that fact among search trends in the United States:
The gap between searches for CBD and searches for THC is even greater at the global level according to Google Trends, per the graph below:
Often seemingly lost in the global CBD conversation is that one of the best things that hemp can be used for involves using it as a building material. The material is called ‘hempcrete,’ and it’s a bio-composite made of the inner woody core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder.
The inner woody core or ‘shiv’ is high in silica content and that allows it to naturally bind really well with lime. It is a property that is seemingly unique to hemp among all of the known natural fibers.
Hempcrete is primarily used as an insulating material, weighs about a seventh or an eighth of the weight of concrete, floats in water when fully cured, and is nearly fire-proof (at least compared to other popular building materials). A recent article by BBC provided a great example of hempcrete in use in the UK, and had the following to say about the material in general:
According to the European Commission, one hectare (2.5 acres) of hemp sequesters between nine and 15 tonnes of CO2, and only takes five months to grow – meaning it is better than typical commercial forestry at sequestering carbon. What’s more, hemp production is reported to help regenerate soil and remove heavy metals from the ground.
But a whole host of challenges must be overcome before hemp can make its mark on the construction industry. These include changes to government regulation, technical certification, and the funding and infrastructure needed to scale up hemp’s industrial production, streamline supply chains, and make it more affordable to use.
Due to the limitations mentioned by BBC in its article, and the popularity of CBD, hempcrete has never been fully embraced by society. However, that is likely to change in the coming years as researchers work to find out the best ways to extract CBD from hemp plants while simultaneously using other parts of the plant to make hempcrete and other building materials.
Opponents of hempcrete will try as hard as they can to focus on the fact that it is not used as a structural element and try to make it sound as if the potential of hemp as a building is limited, when in fact there’s likely so much more to learn about hemp’s potential as a building material.
As laws continue to be reformed, and innovators look to the hemp plant at an increasing rate as a source for sustainable building solutions, it’s nearly guaranteed that discoveries and breakthroughs are on the horizon, and if so, it will benefit society in numerous ways.
This article first appeared on Internationalcbc.com and is syndicated here with special permission.