Post written by Steve Allin, a speaker at the International Cannabis Policy Conference 2018, initially published in New Observations.
Learn more on the website of the International Cannabis Building Association, NGO partner of the Conference.
Across the world, communities and political leaders are grappling with the major issues of economy, employment, and uncertain changing weather. Large-scale economic growth is limited by the existing debt both of governments and individuals and automation and globalization have both led to less and lower paid work. The changing climate, whether it is man-made or not, is leading to concerns over food production and the vulnerability of homes to extreme storm conditions.
So what are we all going to do about it? Kick the can down the road another piece? This seems to be the template in most countries nowadays but we really have to change things for the sake of our children and grandchildren if we are to be responsible, so what can we do to be positive about these problems we face?
An industrial crop is being identified as being able to provide many of the solutions to these aspects of our society but can a plant really do that? What on earth are these people talking about? Of course the plant we are talking about is Hemp, an annual crop that can be grown in just about every country on the planet and probably has been. Prohibited for decades due to much misinformation and to benefit a few competing industrialists Hemp has made a serious comeback in the last 30 years and is now being grown across China, Europe and the N.American continent. Many people now eat Hemp foods or wear Hemp clothing and some automobiles are made using bio-composites using Hemp fibres but there is one use that is still on a relatively small scale and that is construction.
For the last 20 years I have been promoting a system of using what was always considered the waste product, the cellulose core of the stem, a concept which originated in France but has now been employed in many countries including the U.S. By utilising this material, mixed with a binder, to create a lightweight masonry houses, warehouses and shopping centres have all been built using several variations of applications of what is commonly called Hempcrete. It has now been proved that it is possible to build a structure that needs little or no heating or cooling and at the same time provide a comfortable and healthy environment. Added to these qualities Hempcrete as a material has been measured to be Carbon negative in that it sequesters at least 100 kgs of CO2 a cubic meter.
Many communities urban and rural are in dire need of more housing for their expanding populations and this has become a major political issue. Employment and the boost to the economy that it produces have of course always been an issue of importance but many regions are finding this objective difficult to achieve to say the least. So can using hemp to build with, really solve some of these problems?
The agricultural production of Hemp will provide farmers with an income and will improve the quality of the soil for future crops. If a processing facility is created in the area the farming and urban regions are connected which is positive for the local society and of course creates more jobs. Hemp production will create at least 3 products: Fibres, Seed and Wood-chips, this helps provide a broader potential for surviving any variations in yields. Value can be added to the Hemp cellulose chips (hurds) by using them to manufacture composite boards which can then be incorporated into a building system producing modular housing.
The technology now exists to produce a particle board made with Hemp hurds that will pass all strength, vapour permeability, moisture, fire and fungus resistance tests in order to be able to be incorporated into any building as an approved product. If this product is used in a modular building system where the components of the building are assembled off site, it will provide employment both in the factory and with erection teams thereby bringing money into the region from the market further afield. The style of the buildings can vary immensely to suit all types of climate or tradition which can provide an improvement in the appearance of housing and at the same time achieve high standards of energy efficiency and no risk of ‘sick building syndrome’ which can often occur with other types of materials.
If all 3 of these facilities: Processing, Board fabrication and Modular panels factories were to be installed in a region, solutions to the problems mentioned above, of economy, employment, housing and carbon emissions will be addressed in a positive manner and all at once!
Of course many parts of the world populations do not see the immediate possibility of creating an industrial approach to their needs as a suitable response. Low tech solutions are also needed for our societal problems and this is an area I have been involved with recently in several projects in places as diverse as Morocco, Nepal and Haiti. Hemp has been identified as being able to assist in providing earthquake proof structures and it can also be employed in repairing buildings damaged by such disasters. It is also possible to establish more small scale processing which can be used by remote communities where Hemp either grows wild or can be cultivated.
This use together with the increasing potential of Hemp as medicine are making the focus on Hemp a ‘no brainer’ !!