We have seen an increase in hemp-related innovations over the last few years. Here are our top 5.
Hemp has long been heralded as a massively adaptable plant, with evidence for its use as a fabric dating back to around 8,000 years ago, in Turkey.
In recent years, however, its potential to offer a sustainable alternative to many things – including concrete, plastic, fuel, rope and food – has become apparent. This is for manifold reasons: hemp uses significantly less water to grow; hemp can also be used as natural biodiesel, and hemp plastics are completely biodegradable. Used as concrete, it can also help to reduce the major carbon emissions created by the construction industry. Moreover, hemp can be ready for harvesting in as little as 60 days.
It is no surprise, therefore, that here at Springwise we have seen an increase in hemp-related innovations over the last few years. Here are our top 5.
1. A HEMP-BASED FUR THAT MIMICS THE REAL THING
Ukrainian textile company DevoHome specialises in fabrics made from hemp fibres. Now, the company has unveiled a faux fur made from hemp that mimics the same warming properties of animal fur. The environmentally-friendly material made its public debut at the Ukrainian Fashion Week 2020, where it was a hit with both designers and those concerned about the use of animal products.
The fake fur is woven from hemp fibres and viscose, a semi-synthetic material made from wood pulp on a knitted base of natural cotton. The result mimics the double coat of many animals, who have a layer of fine shorter fur close to the skin, protected by a second layer of longer coarser hair. This structure forms an almost airtight layer close to the skin, while in hotter weather, the longer fur prevents heat from reaching the skin. This is what makes natural fur so comfortable to wear.
Unlike most synthetic furs, which are made from petroleum products, DevoHome’s faux fur is made entirely from plant materials. The hemp used in the fur is grown free from pesticides or herbicides and is naturally hypoallergenic and 100 per cent organic. It is also completely biodegradable and has natural antimicrobial properties. In addition to its thermal qualities, the hemp is breathable so does not allow moisture to build up, making it more comfortable than most synthetic fabrics.
2. FLOORING SOLUTION USES HEMP AS A SUBSTITUTE
Wood is a highly sought-after material for flooring, furniture and accent walls. It is warm and attractive, but it is also not highly sustainable, especially if it is a slow-growing hardwood. Now a company in the US, HempWood, has developed a new type of wood substitute — made from hemp.
Hemp has long been noted for its versatility, but HempWood have developed a new process that can turn hemp fibres into sustainable wood alternatives. Part of the appeal is that hemp grows very quickly and is ready for harvest in around 120 days – compared to the decades or even hundreds of years it takes for tree-based woods such as oak, hickory and maple. Moreover, every part of the hemp plant can be used, meaning there is no waste to dispose of. Although HempWood primarily uses the bottom part of the plant, the upper parts can be used for chicken feed, amongst other things.
Hemp also offers wider sustainability advantages – the hemp can be grown on “farms” and harvested without damaging delicate habitats, as opposed to when trees are cut down in forests. Like wood however, hemp is biodegradable. To create HempWood, the plants are first crushed to break down the cell structure. Then the fibres are placed into vats of soy protein, then mixed with water and an organic acid used in the kitchen roll industry. The result is a bit like wooden papier mache – but much stronger.
3. SUSTAINABLE COUNTRY HOUSE BUILT USING HEMPCRETE
Czech architect Lina Bellovicova has recently completed a house built using hempcrete, a first for the Czech Republic. The house is located in the countryside and is designed to be used as a winter retreat and photo studio. The house also features large sliding windows that fill the interior with natural light and frame the picturesque views. There is also a green roof, which provides added insulation for the house.
Hempcrete is a relatively new composite material made from wet-mixing hemp shiv – the chopped up, woody core of the hemp plant, with a lime binder. The resulting mixture is a vapour-permeable insulation material, which has a high thermal performance. It allows the creation of chemical and damp-free indoor environments. Hemp is also useful in zero-carbon builds, as it locks away more atmospheric carbon over the lifetime of the building than was emitted during its construction.
Here, as in other new builds, the hempcrete is used to form the walls, in combination with a timber structural frame as well creating an insulating floor slab. The layout of the house is designed to use a minimal amount of space to the fullest. It includes a cellar, photo studio and a large terrace with a roof overhang, to allow the owner to spend as much time outside as possible.
4. ZERO-CARBON HOME BUILT OUT OF HEMP
London-based architecture firm, Practice Architecture, has built a zero-carbon house from hemp. “Flat House” is located on Margent Farm, a 53-acre hemp farm in rural Cambridgeshire. The firm used hemp grown on the farm to create hempcrete – a mixture of hemp and lime, which was used in the construction of the building.
Practice Architecture used a pre-fabricated panel system that incorporated the hempcrete and was in-filled with hemp itself. The panels were constructed off-site, which allowed the build to continue through the colder months of the year. This is not possible with standard hemp construction methods, and it sped up the building process considerably.
Once the panels were complete, they were brought to the farm, and the shell of the house was erected in just two days. The finished house is also off-grid; heating and power are provided using a biomass boiler and a photovoltaic array on the roof. Inside the house, the panels are exposed, creating a warm, textured feel. The hemp panels are also breathable, allowing them to resist damp and mould, which affects air quality.
5. A NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR CREATING NATURAL FIBRES
A US Department of Defense-funded project is developing new manufacturing technologies that use widely available natural fibres like silk and hemp instead of non-biodegradable man-made plastics. Natural Fibre Welding Inc. has developed a scalable fabrication platform that reformats natural fibres to create stronger and longer-lasting materials.
The company has developed a proprietary, closed-loop process that alters natural fibres at a molecular level, breaking them down and then ‘rebuilding’ them, without denaturing the polymers that make up the individual fibres. The process uses chemicals that are completely recovered during the process, the overall effect being to “glue” the fibres together without actually using any glue.
The process allows complex composite materials to be assembled quickly and efficiently, creating structures with properties that were once only found in plastics. It also allows the company to create fabrics and materials designed for specific purposes.
Written By: Holly Hamilton
28th April 2021