Hemp as Building Material Part 1
From sprouting to doubting
By Brett Marlo DeSantis
Hemp produces 250 times more fiber than cotton, suppresses weeds, requires no pesticides and enriches soil with nitrogen. Hemp for a whole house can be grown on just a few acres of land in just a few months. This quick turnaround makes it a very affordable sustainable material if grown and used locally.
Let’s clear up any confusion– this highly renewable resource, hemp, is not marijuana or pot. You cannot get high using hemp products.
Leafscience.com explains how hemp is different than marijuana. These two varieties of cannabis are grown for two different uses and therefore require different growing conditions due to their genetic parentage and cultivation. Centuries of selective hemp breeding have resulted in optimized plants that grow fast and have higher stalk harvests. These tall and hardy plants were grown by early civilizations for food, oil and textiles. They are sturdy and typically grown outside to maximize its yield.
Despite the fact that hemp should not be classified as a drug, it is still currently illegal to grow in the United States. Recently I-502 decriminalized cultivating and distributing industrial hemp in Washington State, yet the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulates hemp production and it is illegal to grow hemp under federal law without a DEA permit. However in February of this year, the Washington State Senate approved a bill that would nullify the federal prohibition once put into effect.
Hemp is currently available by import only. In fact the U.S. is the number one importer of hemp, supplied mostly by China and Canada. Yet this was not always the case. Did you know that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp boosters?
In fact hemp may be the longest used fiber in history. For over ten thousand years, humans have cultivated and woven using hemp fiber. In the 16th century, Britain constructed everything from battleships to rigging and sails from hemp fiber and oil; also creating maps and logs from hemp paper.
Hemp.com reminds us that in the 17th century, American “farmers in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut were ordered by law to grow Indian hemp. By the early 18th century, a person could be sentenced to jail if they weren’t growing hemp on their land!” And by 1850, the U.S. contained approximately 8,400 hemp plantations totaling a minimum of 16.8 million acres.
In 1938, Hemp was declared to be the “New Billion-Dollar Crop” by Popular Mechanics Magazine:
“Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody “hurds” remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more than 77 percent cellulose, which can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.”
Unfortunately by the end of the 1930s, a smear campaign promoting reefer madness hysteria led to Marijuana Prohibition. It’s been said that very few people at the time realized that marijuana and hemp came from the same plant species. Therefore when Marijuana Prohibition took effect, many were surprised to see it destroy the hemp industry.
Nowadays, according to the website engadget, “hemp may be the ticket to our energy future.” By heating hemp bast fibers in a two-stage process you can make extremely efficient carbon electrodes. Hence healthier cheaper batteries made from biological leftovers. They are said to be much more tolerant of temperature extremes and will charge up almost instantly and don’t degrade.
Imagine your cell phones, electric vehicles and homes with energy packs that charge within seconds and are made from healthy sustainable materials! Perhaps this technology will spark the necessary interest of the United States to reclassify hemp from the Controlled Substances Act as a “drug” to a viable renewable energy source.
Hemp is the next generation of furniture, plant-based plastics, mainstream fabrics and building materials; natural, breathable and chemical-free. When we employ technological advances with sustainable and renewable resources, our built environment will truly be comfortable, healthy and efficient.
Where there is hemp, there is hope. Let’s buy hemp products and encourage our courageous local farmers to start growing industrial hemp!
(Part two of Hemp as Building Material will look at what products are currently available.)