Creating Sustainable Building Materials Using Hemp


Imagine a world where everything was made from a sustainable hemp plant. Although this may be difficult to imagine there are companies who are already designing products such as houses, furniture, construction materials and jewellery from this plant.

America's first house made primarily of hemp, was built using a product known as Hemcrete – a mix of industrial hemp, lime and water . The house was built in nine months with a  team of 40 volunteers, sub-contractors and designers.

The future of our planet’s environment depends on producing more sustainable materials that produce little to no environmental impact. Natural materials like hemp may hold the future for sustainable and eco-friendly living.

The trend is already gaining momentum in Australia and overseas and it is only a matter of time before products start hitting the Australian market.

Zeoform a replacement for plywood?

Leading the way into this modern industry development is the Zeo, a NSW based company that created a product called Zeoform composed only of cellulose and water taken from hemp plants.

The patented product is eco-friendly and biodegradable.

The company says the process results in a material that can be produced at varying densities and can be formed, moulded, or sprayed. The material does not contain glues or other chemical elements, but those can be added to achieve specific properties.

Similar in look, feel and function to a dense hardwood, Zeoform can be sprayed, moulded or formed into infinite shapes, sizes, colours and variations – including specialised substrates for unique applications in any industry requiring woods, plastics and resins for manufacturing.

While rapidly diminishing resources of wood, and environmentally damaging petrochemical derivatives are untenable as source materials into the future, Zeoform converts waste into a universal Material that will replace most plastics, woods and composite materials used in manufacturing today.

So far, the company has used Zeoform to produce furniture, housewares, jewellery, industrial parts, musical instruments, and building cladding.

According to Zen Joseph, Zeo vice president of global branding and marketing, the company has not yet entered commercial production.

“We are seeking suitable industry partners to develop and commercialise Zeoform in the industry,” Joseph told Sourceable.

Ecor a replacement for cardboard?

US-based company Noble Environmental Technologies (Net) produces a similar material named Ecor.

Made from waste cellulose, Ecor panels are dense slabs reminiscent of cardboard or fibreboard. They can be made in a variety of sizes or densities, which can then be folded, cut and glued into an array of shapes.

This flexibility makes it useful for hundreds of applications, from making furniture to building construction, binding books to making signs. Because it is composed of cellulose, Ecor can be completely recycled, or completely constructed from recycled materials.

NET CEO, Robert Noble, told The Guardian that the company is looking far beyond a cardboard replacement.

“The company has worked with the military, as well as private manufacturing companies, to develop versions of Ecor that replace everything from plywood to honeycomb aluminium,” he said.

However production costs are an issue for the Ecor.

“To lower costs, NET is investing in large-scale production. Early this year, its first factory, which is located in Serbia, will scale up to 24-hour production, a level at which prices will drop sharply.

"Our production costs will come down below 15 cents, if not below 10 cents per square foot," Noble claims, noting that, at that level, Ecor will be competitive with plywood," Mr Noble said.

NET has already patented several forms, and plans to roll them out in coming years.

More on Cellulose

Steve Hansen via Sourceable explains cellulose-based-products offer huge potential for building materials.

“When processed, cellulose can be made into materials that replace wood, plastic, and brick. It’s already used as insulation, sourced from recycled newspapers.

“With a bit of processing, common materials can be made into high-performance building materials, such as pollution-eating roofing and concrete,” he writes.

Cellulose is an organic polymer that gives green plants their structural integrity. Wood is 40 to 50 per cent cellulose, dried hemp is about 45 per cent cellulose, and cotton fiber contains about 90 per cent cellulose. As a waste material found in waste paper, cardboard, and textiles, cellulose is abundant and can be used to create a material to replace wood and plastic.

Featured Image source: Hemp House

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