The Benefits of Using Hemp in the Construction and Textile Industries

"We are only now harnessing the industrial hemp plant's potential as a rotating crop with regenerative agriculture qualities," says Steve DeAngelo.
The Benefits of Using Hemp in the Construction and Textile Industries
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By Natán Ponieman and Javier Hasse. Originally published on Ámbito Financiero via El Planteo. Translation via Benzinga.

Ever since the cannabis legalization process began to gain global momentum, much has been said about its medicinal and therapeutic potential, as well as the huge market that awaits behind the doors of adult-use regulation.

But the cannabis plant has even greater potential—it can be used as raw material for textile and construction.

In fact, industrial sales are expected to triple in the next seven years, rising from $4.71 billion in 2019 to $15.26 billion in 2027.

Related: Meet North Carolina's First Female Hemp Farmer In 75 Years

Reducing the carbon footprint

Steve DeAngelo, one of the most recognized cannabis activists of the last decades, says that hemp has the ability to replace virtually any petroleum product. 

“Hemp can be grown without pesticides. Captures 22 tons of atmospheric carbon per hectare. It is a powerful phytoremediator that extracts industrial poisons from contaminated soil. And, likewise, it is a powerful tool to control erosion and remedy unproductive or marginally productive lands,” says DeAngelo. And adds: "We are only now harnessing the industrial hemp plant’s potential as a rotating crop with regenerative agriculture qualities."

The textile industry

Hemp fabric has been around for a long time, from Rembrandt's canvases to the sails in Columbus's caravels. Now, the textile industry is strongly experiencing hemp’s disruption, especially as a replacement for cotton.

The material can be processed to be lightweight, soft, breathable, and durable, replacing most cotton applications in the textile industry. Considering that cotton represents 43% of all fibers used for clothing and textiles worldwide, hemp has huge possibilities ahead.

For instance, iconic jeans company Levi's recently announced a pilot project to replace 27 percent of its denim’s cotton with hemp, as part of an overall sustainability push. Why? Cotton requires much more water, pesticides, and soil to be grown than hemp.

It is estimated that cotton accounts for 10 percent of pesticide use and 25 percent of insecticides globally, while hemp, due to its resilience, requires very few chemicals to grow. To be precise, one hectare of hemp can produce three times more clothing than one of cotton. This is because the industrial use fibers are extracted from the stem of the hemp plant, which is thin and grows tall, allowing growers to have about 15 plants per square meter. 

Numerous luxury hotel chains have also joined the hemp frenzy, and hemp fashion brands have partnered with influencers like Bella Thorne to further spread their vision.

Patagonia, the premium mountain clothing brand, launched a line of garments made of hemp as part of its sustainable efforts as well.

Construction and plastics

Hempcrete, concrete made with hemp and lime, is lighter and more resistant to fire, mold, and moisture than regular concrete. "It can be made as strong as ordinary concrete and captures atmospheric carbon as it dries," adds DeAngelo. Furthermore, it can be used without structural purposes, as a thermal and acoustic insulator.

Hemp is not only useful, it is strong. "Its fibers are stronger than steel," says Bruce Linton, co-founder and former CEO of Canadian cannabis giant Canopy. The executive recently created Collective Growth, a "blank check company" that raised $150 million in less than two months and debuted on Nasdaq in May with the goal of creating a global industrial hempire.

BMW also uses hemp plastics in several of its electric car models, including the i3 and i8, but they are not pioneers: in 1941, Henry Ford presented a car model whose body was built entirely from hemp bioplastic and ran on cannabis biofuel.

Hemp bioplastic has endless uses, including bags, boxes, and, unlike synthetic plastics, it is produced from renewable and biodegradable materials. Packaging industry giants such as Sonoco Products, Constantia Flexibles, O. Berk, Klöckner Pentaplast and MG America have already declared their interest in the material.

Biofuel

In the 1930s, Ford Motor Company had a whole facility destined to extract biodiesel from hemp biomass. The reason? Biofuel made from pressed hemp seed can be used in any conventional diesel engine. Using this method, hemp can produce approximately 780 liters of oil per hectare, about 4 times more than soybeans.

In addition, the rest of the hemp biomass can be used to produce ethanol, a key alcohol in the creation of biofuels, which is traditionally extracted from corn or sugar cane. A 2010 study from the University of Connecticut showed that hemp oil has a 97 percent conversion rate to diesel.

Although it takes approximately 50 percent more biofuel to generate the same energy as that produced by petroleum, hemp fuel is a renewable alternative and doesn’t harm the environment. Thus, with the development of a large-scale production chain, the costs of hemp biofuel production will definitely exceed those of oil. But the latter’s availability inevitably tends to be scarce.

More on hemp on El Planteo.

 

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