The benefits of cultivating and processing hemp domestically go beyond the economic advantages. Making hemp farming federally legal and increasing the number of crops nationwide could make a powerful impact on our efforts to prevent global warming.
Last week, Colorado Hemp Company and NoCo Hemp Expo hosted Hemp On The Slope, an event in Collbran, Colorado, meant to educate and inform the community on the benefits of domestic hemp cultivation. Among the most significant of the benefits? Industrial hemp farming reduces our carbon footprint and thereby combats global warming.
Global warming has been found to be associated with increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). According to NASA, CO2 levels in the air, which are currently at 404.48 parts per million, are at their highest in 650,000 years. The CO2 released from the burning of fossil fuels isn’t absorbed by vegetation and therefore remains in the atmosphere, causing global temperature to rise. This year, global temperatures are on course to set a high temperature benchmark for the third year in a row, the New York Times reported.
Industrial hemp uses the sun’s energy to convert atmospheric CO2 into hydrocarbons and water. This absorbed CO2 is only released back into the atmosphere when hemp is composted or burned. According to a July press release from NoCo Hemp Expo, each ton of hemp removes 1.63 tons of CO2. The state of Colorado alone has planted over 8,700 acres of hemp, “resulting in an average of 10 tons per acre of carbon dioxide being removed from our atmosphere.”
Hemp can be processed into building materials. It’s mixed with a lime-based binder to create the bio-composite hempcrete, a material similar to cement, but an eighth of its weight. It can be used for insulation infill between a structure’s frame members, typically wood studs.
While traditional construction has a costly carbon footprint, hemp can be used to construct “zero carbon” buildings, meaning the building’s materials absorb more CO2 than is produced during construction. Plus, by using hemp, which grows extremely quickly, there is less reliance on scarce resources like timber.
At the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, researchers are conducting the HEMPSEC Project, aimed at expanding the market for hemp-based building materials. The 36 month-long program involves the construction, monitoring, and analysis of several building constructed from hemp-lime materials.
The Director of the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, Professor Pete Walker, believes using hemp to build carbon-neutral homes could be significant in the effort to combat climate change.
“Using renewable crops to make building materials makes real sense – it only takes an area the size of a rugby pitch four months to grow enough hemp to build a typical three bedroom house,” Walker said.
“Hempcrete has a high degree of thermal insulation, and it is also fire resistant. Walls made from this material are breathable which regulates humidity within the structure. These insulating properties control temperature as well. Under the right circumstances, the use of hemp concrete could even eliminate the need for a heating and cooling system entirely. Or at least drastically reduce power consumption.”
Since 1937, cultivating hemp in the United States had been illegal because of its familial connection and similar appearance to marijuana. In 2015, President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill, which featured Section 7606 allowing state departments of agriculture and universities to legally cultivate industrial hemp under a pilot program or for research purposes. Since then, at least 28 states have industrial hemp laws in place.
While industrial hemp farming is gradually expanding throughout the U.S. as more states adopt legislation, a federal bill has the capability to allow hemp farming to flourish nationwide. The Hemp Farming Act, first introduced in 2005, would amend the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not include industrial hemp. Reintroduced most recently in 2015, the bill would make hemp farming legal for all. The passing of the bill would be monumental to the effort of reducing our carbon footprint and combatting global warming.