American Hemp Manufacturing PART IV: Environmental Impact

Unlike Tesla draining South American swamps for their natural resources, growing industrial hemp is actually good for the environment.

How? The majority of our carbon footprint comes from the construction industry. In order to get a 1 ton (~2,204 lbs) of steel, we have to release about 1.46 tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02) into the atmosphere.

It’s like pouring water into your hands. More leaks out then what you actually get to drink.

So should we stop all new construction in hopes of stopping C02 pollution?

The good news is we don’t have to throw a wrench in our economy in order to reduce our emissions.

Together with limestone, hemp can cut construction emissions down to a fifth of what traditional materials, like steel and concrete, use.

And America’s hemp industry soaks up about a 0.67 ton/h/year. To put that in perspective that’s about how much all U.S. urban trees combined to produce.

The hemp industry’s ability to soak up C02 is very close to that of a naturally regnerated forest.

How do we know something that specific?

Through something called a life-cycle assessment. A life-cycle assessment is like an invoice for all the resources used during the production of a material.

From pulling it out of the ground until it’s in the walls of the end product, life-cycle assessments calculate the whole cost.

Hemp as a Building Material

You could build an entire house purely out of hemp-based materials. There’s even hemp concrete or hempcrete as it’s known in the construction industry.

How do you turn a leafy plant into concrete? Sounds impossible, but hemp is always full of surprises.

What makes hemp so unique among natural fibers when it comes to construction is its high levels of silica.

This silica bonds very well to powdered limestone. When combined, you get a super lightweight and durable concrete alternative, hempcrete.

But how are we able to get so many other construction materials from hemp? The construction industry uses three main parts of the plant:

  • The inner core, known as hurds, for structural materials like hempcrete
  • The outer skin, for secondary items, like insulation
  • Hemp seed oil for polishes and staining wood

Hempcrete isn’t just a cheap alternative either. Some insurers actually give a discount for homes built with hempcrete because of the increased durability.

The minerals that go into concrete have to be mined. This lets off a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In fact, concrete is the third leading cause of manmade carbon dioxide emissions.

Most building materials haven’t changed in decades and, like concrete, are sustainable in the long run.

Hemp has the opposite effect of concrete and the production of other building materials have on carbon dioxide levels.

Since it’s a plant, hemp sucks up carbon dioxide throughout its entire lifespan.

Other uses for hemp hurds

The outer skin is actually what gets used for hemp textiles, rope, and other materials that require long strands of durable material.

But hempcrete is far from being the only use for hemp hurds. They make up over 70% of the hemp plant and can even be turned into fuel.

Hemp for phytoremediation

Phytoremediation is a fancy word to describe using plants to clean up areas where an environmental disaster took place.

Hemp is the perfect plant for this process for several reasons:

  • Hemp’s taproot can reach up to eight feet below the ground’s surface to soak up contaminates
  • Cheap to grow relative to other phytoremediation crops
  • Grows fast
  • The plant is still usable afterward

You’re wondering why would anyone want to use industrial hemp that’s been growing in a polluted environment, like Chernobyl.

While some plants do bioaccumulate, meaning the toxins they absorb are there to stay, hemp is able to break down these pollutants.

Sunflowers, mustard plants, and willow trees are some other species that can also break down pollutants. Together with hemp, these crops were sewn in and around the infamous Chernobyl radioactive disaster site to clean contaminated soil and water.

Hemp Could End World Hunger

You often hear about the benefits a plant-based diet can have for both your body and the environment.

But is it all vegan propaganda?

Not at all. By weaning off animal products the way scientists recommend reducing our reliance on fossil fuels we can add up to 50% more to the global food supply without sacrificing any more land.

Because hemp is a complete protein, just like meat, it will be at the forefront of the plant-based trend.

Hemp as Fuel

Hemp can provide us with two different types of fuels:

  1. Hemp biodiesel comes from pressing oil directly from hemp seeds
  2. Hemp ethanol/methanol is made by fermenting the stalks of the hemp plant

Dr. Rudolph Diesel was the first to realize the potential for plant oils as fuel. More excited than a kid on Christmas with a sugar high, Dr. Diesel showed off an engine funning off peanut oil in Paris circa 1900.

Henry Ford’s first car models ran off biodiesel as well. But can hemp biodiesel really solve our renewable energy crisis?

It can. Hemp biodiesel can run in any traditional diesel engine without having to make modifications.

And we all the devastating effects an oil spill can have on the environment. Just recently Chevron was responsible for close to 1 million gallons of crude oil and water dumping into Kern Valley.

Chevron is downplaying the harm by saying wildlife hasn’t been significantly harmed. But the effects of an oil spill are long-lasting.

One of the most common side effects of animals exposed to oil spills is laying eggs with thinner shells.

This makes them more vulnerable to even slight movements in their own nest, let alone predators.

And don’t think we get off scot-free because we live in houses not directly exposed to the oil spill like animals.

Unlike plants that can break down bioaccumulated toxins, animals don’t have this ability. A fish that swam through an oil spill in the gulf one year and gets caught in fishing next the next will pass those contaminates onto whomever it’s them.