Strong as Steel: New Possibilities for Hemp Green Construction

by | Apr 29, 2022

Written by Casia Lanier

Over the past century, glass and steel have reigned supreme in the construction industry. However, green construction may eclipse traditional construction methods, as skyscrapers made of wood are becoming more common, and hemp has shown its value as an alternative material for furniture, insulation, and even rebar.  

We Require Holistic Solutions to Unnatural Constructions

From sea to shining sea, America has constructed nearly identical highrises. Rather than emphasizing ecological innovation, the focus has been on gaudy displays showing how close skyscrapers could get to engineering’s limits. Due to these buildings being an exorbitant show of wealth, many countries followed America’s example to remain competitive. Thus, thousands of skyscrapers sprouted up in the last century in biomes as diverse as deserts and tundras. Throughout every construction, engineers used steel rebar in these buildings, and as anyone who owns a car around a coast knows, humidity means corrosion.

Similarly, as with automobile manufacturing, steel is a tempting material to use in construction as it is malleable and intensely strong. As Henry Ford proved with his Model T, hemp can compete with steel pound for pound. Hemp’s superiority as a metal alternative stems from being quick to grow, good for the environment, relatively cheap, and easy to work with.

Additionally, hemp is less prone to corrosion, so fewer tragedies like the collapse of a 12-story condominium last June would occur with hemp adoption. A leading cause of rebar corrosion, which leads to disasters such as the one mentioned, is the presence of saltwater, and deicing salts, especially when moisture is also present.

In coastal regions and regions with heavy ice, corrosion will continue to threaten modern constructions. Hemp rebar, created from the cannabis plant, would likely extend the lifespan of concrete construction three times, from the current 50-year lifespan to 150 years. While engineers have yet to prove this, many hemp enthusiasts believe this is true because the bio-friendly material is resistant to decay. Hemp rebar is a promising and exciting alternative if it is as effective as modern rebar. 

How is Hemp Rebar Made and Where is Rebar Used

While it may seem irrational to expect hemp to be as sturdy as steel, industrial science has been around for quite some time. Using pultrusion, or a process of pulling, heating, and treating with a plastic or resin, manufacturers can create hemp rebar. While an incredibly promising idea, it’s still in the early stages of development. Tsamis, and Walczyk, the designers behind the machinery which currently produces hemp rebar, are still researching the best way to produce the material.

As it stands, the concept is that operators will bring a machine no bigger than a car on-site and mold custom shapes of hemp rebar for any project. While the pair are fine-tuning their creation with success, an issue will arise while sourcing hemp for the rebar. Hemp is one of the most flexible materials on the planet, but supply chain issues commonly hamstring some of the most promising ideas within the industry. The problems don’t stem from having hemp readily available but a lack of equipment necessary to process hemp into usable material.

Once the manufacturing hiccups are solved and the machinery finalized, hemp rebar is applicable everywhere rebar is. That list of structures that utilize rebar includes skyscrapers, bridges, sidewalks, homes, and more. In addition to getting countries off steel, which necessitates heavy carbon waste, relying on domestically grown hemp for building materials could simplify and strengthen supply chains. In times of instability, localized production is an excellent source of strength.

Additional Ecological Benefits from Hemp Construction

While hemp provides an alternative material that is fast to harvest and could help reduce construction’s carbon emissions, that’s not all. The cannabis plant is a fantastic phytoremediator. Fields of hemp turn awful soil into healthier, usable material.

The crop does this by absorbing metals, including lead. Additionally, hemp absorbs pesticides and other pollutants. Yet, while this is wonderful for the soil, it makes the hemp unsafe to consume. The use of these crops in construction may allow for the safe use of these hemp plants, allowing for soil remediation and the productive use of the harvest.

Still, hemp does more! As a source of oxygen and a much-needed ally for bees in many key biomes, the ecological benefit of this cash crop cannot be overstated, especially when mixed with other beneficial cover crops. While America and the world seem addicted to mono-crop culture, cannabis could provide an alternative to such strategies while also providing promising innovations in construction, textiles, and beyond.

By replacing the need for materials such as wood and steel, cannabis could be one of the key players in a sustainable and profitable future for America.