If you accept the evaluation of the folks over at Weedlife, hemp is the “dream green” construction material. But can the US make the industrial hemp transition?
In 2018 President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp as a legitimate agricultural and industrial product. That bill revived the long-lost US hemp industry with modern applications for the plant that was so valuable to the national economy that it was once used by our forefathers to pay US taxes.
Summary S.2667 explains the Hemp Farming Act of 2018
“This bill legalizes industrial hemp that has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana) concentration of no more than 0.3% by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. States and Indian tribes may regulate the production of hemp by submitting a plan to the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill also makes hemp producers eligible for the federal crop insurance program and certain USDA research grants.”
With the Farm Bill signed and sealed, the US hemp revival was off and running. But, like all other business sectors in 2020- 2021, the covid shutdowns have had their dampening effects on the young hemp industry about to catch fire.
Fiber Hemp Faces Market Challenges
Fiber hemp especially faces challenges in states like Texas that had high hopes for industrial hemp as an alternative crop. By 2019, wildly optimistic economic projections of $40,000 per acre profits created a wave of interest in producing hemp for medicinal CBD applications.
But by late 2019 the CBD market was saturated by established growers in other states and prices cratered. Just 40,000 acres can easily satisfy all US demand for CBD products, so farmers are looking to other hemp fiber applications to keep the revival in hemp demand going, if not growing.
Industrial hemp consumption to date has been dominated by the “naturopathic” health and wellness CBD sector. There, CBD oils, gummies, candies, vapes, and patches have become enormously popular. The global cannabidiol (CBD) market size is poised to grow at a CAGR of 51% from 2021 to 2030.
The problem is that the incredible hemp plant is almost too productive for US farmers to commit more acreage for the medicinal varieties, and the markets for the fiber varieties are still shaky. While Europe has embraced hemp construction materials the US lags far behind, despite the numerous green benefits of hemp materials.
Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist and statewide hemp specialist in Lubbock, TX sums up the problem with relying on CBD demand for hemp industry growth saying;
“It doesn’t take many acres to produce CBD for the end-product. Around 25 acres producing average yields can fill 1 million bottles that contain about 1 gram of CBD.”
That means that growth will require more diversified sources of hemp demand.
Other products potentially adding to US hemp demand include clothing, insulation, plastics, concrete, and bricks. Hemp has incredible applications in automotive plastics that are tough enough to rival steel. And hemp fuel goes in the gas tank as well.
“In 1941, Henry Ford built a car out of hemp. It was not only built out of hemp plastic, but it also ran on hemp fuel. Hemp plastic was tested to be much stronger than steel. They tried denting the hemp car with a hammer, but the car didn’t even budge.”– 82 Real Life Amazing Hemp Products To Try Today
Ford’s Hemp car used hemp, soybean, seisel, and wheat straw derived plastics and withstood an assault with an ax in this 1941 footage,
Hemp Construction Materials
Hemp Block USA manufactures both load-bearing interlocking hemp blocks for construction and mortar joined blocks for insulation and partitions. For buildings up to 2 stories, hemp blocks should have US green builders lining up.
According to the manufacturer benefits of hemp block include:
- Easy interlocking assembly
- Carbon negative – Finished walls trap, or “sequester” more CO2 than they emit.
- Excellent insulation characteristics for Energy efficiency and savings up to 70% in HVAC costs
- Excellent acoustic value
- Termite resistant
- Fire resistant
- Mold resistant
- Rendered finish on both sides of the walls
And of course, the innovative Hempcrete concept was launched. Hempcrete is an insulation material that resists mold, fire, and pests. According to hemp wool and hempcrete insulation supplier, Rocky Mountain Hemp Build in Colorado, hempcrete insulation is durable, non-allergenic, sprayable, and importantly for green construction, it absorbs carbon. Hemp mixed with a lime binder is commonly used in construction in Europe and Canada.
But the tough fibrous hemp that makes Hempcrete faces some very stiff competition from sectors including:
- Cat litter.
- Thermoset compression molding
How Green is the Hemp Valley?
Fuel? Bioplastics? Paper? Just how green is industrial hemp and is it worth it for farmers to cultivate the fiber variety acreage so essential for industrial textile, plastics, and energy applications?
Farmers need a reliable and consistent market before they commit to one variety of hemp or another. The global industrial hemp market is projected to be worth $ 27.72 Billion by 2028 at 25.17% CAGR according to Verified Market Research™, but it is dominated by the CBD market in North America.
- According to Thomas B. Reed, a chemical engineer at Colorado School of Mines, an acre of hemp can produce power equivalent to a thousand gallons of gasoline.
- 1 acre of Hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack, or deteriorate over time.
- Carbon negative components offset carbon positive parts in automotive, manufacturing, and construction applications. The Renew Hemp Car, using Henry Ford’s principles and running on hemp fuel is up to 4.7 times greener than electric vehicles. It has just 14.7% of the carbon footprint of a gas-powered car while lithium battery EVs come in at 66%.
But for hempcrete? The US market is just not there. Hempcrete uses a different strain of the cannabis family crop, known as fiber. While that tough carbon-sequestering fiber is the ideal matte for textiles and steel substitute plastics, it’s value for producing CBD (cannabidiol oil) and beneficial hemp seeds is lacking.
The fiercest competition for hemp acreage cultivation may never be overcome when it’s in the form of the very lucrative, high-demand market for the more popular cannabinoid variety of industrial hemp that yields CBD.
And we can expect hempcrete to go the way of Henry’s 1941 Hemp Ford. Another promising hemp innovation that somehow went up in smoke and wasn’t heard about again for 80 years.
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