From 3-D printed houses to personal protective gear and sanitation, hemp is revolutionizing the materials we use.
Ready for a dose of good news? While hemp clothing may be old hat to you, this versatile fiber is being put to some amazing new uses, some of them still in development. Others are more than ready for prime time and being rolled out right now. Take homes for example. Thanks to its its plasticity, once converted to a polymer, sustainably grown hemp is an ideal medium with which to 3D-print structures. The Australian company Mirreco uses its patented hemp-derived bioplastic to print large panels that become the floors, walls, and roofs of eco-friendly prefab homes and other buildings.
The environmental payoffs are enormous, beginning with carbon sequestration. As it grows, hemp sequesters carbon dioxide that is then “locked away” forever in bioplastic form. The beauty of hemp as a renewable building material is its ability to deliver benefits from the field all the way to its end use. That includes its soil aeration properties coupled with hemp’s natural pest and disease resistance. And much of it is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers. Mirreco's homes can be erected far faster than conventional structures, and according to the company, their hemp polymer delivers much better thermal performance than conventional building materials.
A patented hemp polymer will form the basic structure while high-tech windows capture UV rays that are converted to electrify.
As a replacement for concrete, hemp excels. You may have heard about the environmental destruction caused by sand and gravel mining, especially in sensitive riverbed terrain. We're rapidly discovering that the copious amounts of sand needed in concrete manufacturing poses yet another existential threat to the planet. Hemp biomass solves that issue nicely.
The shift to 3-D printed homes may be coming faster than we might think. Project Milestone in the Netherlands expects to have finished, habitable homes made of hemp bioplastic ready for occupancy in 2021. While the Flintstone-esque architecture may not suit everyone’s taste, it’s not hard to imagine more conventional-looking structures aimed at more conventional tastes.
These 3-D printed homes made of hemp bioplastic are slated for occupancy next year.
So maybe you can’t imagine living in one of these hemp houses anytime soon. How about something far more prosaic, like say, cleaning wipes? While I get why most PPE is designed to be thrown away, as someone who tries to honor the recycle-and-reuse mantra, the amount of plastic waste generated in healthcare and sanitation is distressing. A Canadian company called Bast Fibre Technologies aims to change that by partnering with Natural Products Canada to develop compostable hemp-based cleaning wipes.
As noted in this story the global market for non-woven fibers is is huge—over $50 billion annually. From surgical gowns and masks to disposable diapers, nearly all of it is made from synthetic plastics that are choking landfills and poisoning our water supplies and oceans. Fibers made from hemp on the other hand are naturally antimicrobial, can be formed into a vast array of fabrications, and once their service life is over they can be returned to earth where they will decompose, returning nutrients to the soil.
I continue to be amazed by all of hemp’s potential. Thankfully, we’ve mostly gotten past those snickering headlines connecting industrial hemp with pot. Even mainstream media is beginning to get it: hemp is a terrific resource that offers the promise of solving some of our most pressing environmental issues. Stay tuned, I think we’re just getting started with hemp!