Green Economy


Tradical Hemcrete, a combination of hemp chips and lime-based binder, is the wall material of choice for a group of builders and designers in North Carolina

Devember 7, 2009 – Fabrics and rugs made with industrial hemp are often cited as acceptably green alternatives to floor coverings made from petrochemicals, or to woolen rugs treated heavily with insecticide. But hemp also has found its way into another domestic application.

And it is not the first alternative use that may come to mind.

Nauhaus Institute, a North Carolina-based coalition of designers, engineers, builders, developers, and others devoted to green construction, has been working with hemp as a wall-construction material. Called Tradical Hemcrete, the material is essentially a lime-based binder and industrial hemp chips (derived from the woody, pretty much unsmokable core of the hemp plant) that, when mixed with water, can be sprayed over a substrate on an exterior wall or poured into forms around timber or stick framing to create a thermally resistant but “breathable” barrier.

A wall-material bakeoff
As noted in a recent story in Asheville, North Carolina’s Citizen-Times, Nauhaus (pronounced “now house”) has two homes under construction that will feature Hemcrete walls. Nauhaus says on its website that, overall, hemp met sustainability, performance, cost, and aesthetic criteria better than competing materials.

“On the natural building side, we feel that earthen mixes don’t have adequate thermal performance in our climate while the vulnerability of straw bales to water damage concerns us,” the group’s partners say on the Nauhaus site. “On the high-performance commercial side, we are skeptical of the long-term durability of SIPS walls and feel that double-stick frame systems are too complex and prone to air infiltration weaknesses. These and other problems seem to be solved by what to us is a new material: Tradical Hemcrete.”

Hemcrete also is billed as insect- and fire-resistant. One issue the group couldn’t get around, however, is that, while industrial hemp products can be imported into the U.S., it is illegal to grow hemp here. Tradical Hemcrete is made in the U.K. by a division of Belgian firm Lhoist Group, a specialist in calcined-limestone products, and is distributed in the U.S. by Hemp Technologies, of Asheville.

A green quandary: shipping from the U.K.
The Citizen-Times story points out that shipping costs make Hemcrete considerably more expensive — the approximately 1,900 sq. ft. of Hemcrete required for one of the Nauhaus projects, with 3,100 sq. ft. of interior space and 12-inch-thick exterior walls, costs about $56,250. But Hemcrete walls also require less lumber, which reduces framing costs 30% to 40%, Greg Flavall, a co-founder of Hemp Technologies, told the paper. Another advantage to Hemcrete, says Nauhaus partner Chris Cashman, is that it serves as “your Sheetrock, insulation and Tyvek all rolled into one.”

Building-performance costs in both Nauhaus projects will be significantly lower than conventionally constructed homes of comparable size, although the smaller of the two structures, a 1,450-sq.-ft. four-bedroom that will serve as a Nauhaus prototype and test house, will have 16-inch-thick walls and solar panels on the roof to bring energy usage to net zero.

Not surprisingly, Nauhaus partners advocate legalizing industrial-hemp growing in the U.S. “Our feeling is, what a great crop this would be for North Carolina’s tobacco growers to get into,” Nauhaus partner Tim Callahan told the Citizen-Times. “Bringing this in from England is probably not the greatest idea (economically). If local farmers can benefit from this, it would be great for them and great for the economy.” Source.

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November 26, 2009 – Alberta Canada is going green, but not in the way some might think. Just outside the town of Vegreville, the Alberta Research Council is working to add hemp farming to Alberta’s list of lucrative industries.

The Vegreville nursery is home to the largest research and production facility of hemp in North America. Industrial hemp grown in Alberta can be used in a number of products ranging anywhere from textiles to fibreglass. Products made from hemp have less environmental impact than those made from glass or plastics, and in many cases are more energy efficient.

Jan Slaski, breeder and plant physiologist at the Vegreville facility, explained why this is the case.

“Bio composites produced from hemp are more environmentally friendly. Replacing glass fibre with bio-fibre produces a much lighter product. A lighter product means that your car, boat, or airplane is lighter and uses less fuel. High-end European car manufacturers, particularly German manufacturers, use bio-composites in their panels,” he said.

Historically, hemp has been grown in Canada for hundreds of years, but was banned in 1938 due to the associations hemp has with marijuana. This ban was later lifted in 1998. Industrial hemp, unlike marijuana, does not contain high levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes intoxication.

According to Slaski, Canada has very strict guidelines for hemp farmers.

“Cultivating hemp in Canada is regulated by Health Canada,” he stated. “The hemp that can be grown in Canada is strictly industrial hemp, and can only contain less than 0.3 per cent THC.”

This amount of THC is not enough to associate industrial hemp with narcotics. Such a low amount of chemical in industrial hemp should take the negative drug associations out of the industry.

The varieties of hemp currently grown in Alberta have mostly European origins. Researchers at the ARC have adapted European varieties to thrive in Alberta’s climate. Researchers have tested about 80 different cultivars (or plant varieties) from different regions to distinguish which varieties grow best in Alberta soil. The ARC has identified a Polish cultivar, also known as the Silesia variety, which has a 20–40 per cent higher crop yield than the cultivars presently allowed for cultivation in Canada. The group owns the sole rights to this variety of hemp in North America, and covers all aspects of hemp from development to processing to production, which is a benefit to the Alberta economy.

“ARC is offering solutions from seeds to the final product. This means we work with hemp to develop new cultivars and new agricultural practices. The new cultivars have a high yield and are adapted to our Alberta climate conditions,” Slaski said “We then take the hemp stock to our facilities in Millwoods, and soon we will have a processing facility in Vegreville, and process it.

The ARC oversees the hemp from seed to the final product. This means that all research, farming, and processing of the fibres is done locally keeping jobs and revenue within Alberta.

Slaski argued that this is a huge benefit to Alberta farmers and the overall economy. It’s also a benefit to individual farmers because hemp is a very lucrative crop.

“Farmers here in the province look for cash crops. They want something they can finally start making money on and hemp provides that opportunity,” Slaski said. Because industrial hemp is relatively new to Alberta, bio-composites are a bit more expensive, but the ARC is setting industry standards.

“At this point, it is a niche market,” Slaski said. “Working with mainstream industry, working with auto industries, buildings, textiles, it means we can get a much larger volume of materials produced and we can re-establish hemp as a valuable crop to Alberta.” By Krista Allan. Source.

ATLANTA, MI– Could industrial hemp be the next cash crop for northern Michigan farmers? A group in Montmorency County hopes so.

Everett Swift went before the Montmorency County Board of Commissioners Wednesday morning urging them to pass a resolution that would open up opportunities for farmers to cultivate industrial hemp.

“It’s got over 25,000 different uses,” Swift said. “Textiles, biofuels, they’re making biodegradable plastics, concrete, building materials.”

Currently it’s legal to sell hemp products, however it’s illegal to cultivate, or grow, hemp without a permit from the federal government. While hemp and marijuana both belong in the cannabis plant family, supporters of the pro-industrial hemp resolution say they are very different.

“The difference, it’s like a male and female plant,” said Jolene Fowler, a local hemp jewelry business owner. “Hemp doesn’t flower, it doesn’t have any narcotic effects.”

During Wednesday’s highly attended county commission meeting, supporters took turns expressing their views on the topic. In the end the Montmorency County Commission declined to take any action on the topic. It’s not clear if or when they’ll revisit the issue.