Hemp and marijuana are two different breeds of Cannabis sativa (Yonavjak, 2013). Distinguishing the two is easy; check their THC content (Yonavjak, 2013). THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana (DiLonardo, 2021). Hemp has a THC content between 0.2% and 0.3%, and marijuana has more than 0.3% (Yonavjak, 2013).
Legally speaking, hemp suffered the same fate as marijuana in the U.S. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act taxed any form of cannabis importation, cultivation, possessional, and/or distribution (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2019). The tax was so heavy that virtually no one could afford it, so anyone who failed to pay the tax would face hefty fines or prison time for tax evasion (McVay, n.d.). This continued and intensified throughout the coming decades and, as we all know, is finally starting to turn around.
The problem is that by lumping hemp and marijuana together, we effectively halted any potential hemp use. Hemp is a strong, environmentally-friendly material that is almost endlessly versatile and durable and has a low environmental impact (Jaeger, 2022). In a world where environmental concerns reign supreme, and “carbon emissions and rising energy demands pose a serious threat to global sustainability,” there is a strong need for sustainable, eco-friendly materials (Parvez, 2021).
In Illinois specifically, where the state poverty rate is almost 1% above the national average, and places like Ottawa City and Mounds have even higher percentages, there is a need for sustainable, affordable resources. As it stands now, Illinois is experiencing rising temperatures, which increases evaporation rates, average rainfall, and the frequency of intense rainstorms (Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). These are real problems, and one real solution may be hemp.
Here is a list of four ways hemp use can help the state of Illinois.
1. Hemp Can Build Affordable Housing
According to Mike Miletich with WIFR 23, Illinois needs about 288,900 affordable housing units to safely house the lower-income population (2022). As hemp becomes more culturally and legally accessible, it should be considered an alternative to traditional building methods, especially regarding affordable housing.
In June of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency granted researchers at Texas A&M University $3.74 million to “3D print new resilient buildings using hempcrete” (Chapman, 2022). This funding may help lower the environmental impact of traditional construction methods and make housing more affordable and available; “hempcrete is made by mixing hemp powder, fiber or shives with lime and water, creating a lightweight, green building material” (Chapman, 2022).
The principal investigator for this project, Dr. Petros Sideris, said, “While production of conventional construction materials such as concrete requires large amounts of energy and releases large amounts of CO2, hempcrete is a net carbon-negative material, which can provide major environmental benefits” (Chapman, 2022).
Globally, hempcrete has already helped construct residential buildings (Chapman, 2022). It is fire-resistant, works as an excellent insulator, and is resilient to natural hazards (Chapman, 2022).
2. Hemp Can Make Environmentally Friendly Insulation
Much like the rest of the northern United States, Illinois is known for its cold winters. The Illinois State Climatologist reports that temperatures range between the low teens to the mid 30’s during Illinois’ winter months (n.d.).
In general, insulation can save loads of energy by preventing heat loss or heat entrance in buildings, depending on the season (Lotus, 2022). Manufacturing of the most popular type of insulation, mineral wool and fiberglass, “contributes more than 30% of stratospheric ozone depletion” (Lotus, 2022).
HempWool, produced by Idaho-based company Hempitecture, is a hemp fiber insulation product that is “non-toxic, high-performing and carbon-negative to manufacture” (Lotus, 2022). It is grown over 90 days with renewable plant material, and while growing, hemp’s photosynthesis cycle produces a carbon sink, which is how it’s carbon-negative (Lotus, 2022).
In late 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy sponsored a project to develop hemp fiber insulation because of hemp’s “promising environmental benefits” (Jaeger, 2021). Tommy Gibbons, COO of Hempitecture, will receive “an annual stipend of $90,000 and as much as $200,000 to support research into the insulation product” (Jaeger, 2021).
So while hemp-based insulation is new to the construction industry, it certainly is showing strong promise as an affordable, sustainable material.
3. Hemp Can Produce Biogas and Biofuel
Now, wheat grain, maize, and sugar beets produce biofuel (Ahmed, 2022; Prade, 2012). These resources are gradually depleting and harming our ozone layer, heavily contributing to climate change and global warming (Ahmed, 2022). Currently, the U.S. is the largest producer of biofuel in the world, and we produced roughly 1,436 petajoules in 2021 (Statista).
Because hemp has such a quick growing cycle and the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills allow for select hemp growth throughout the U.S., it makes sense for places like Illinois to focus on hemp growth as an alternative source for biogas and biofuel.
Industrial hemp, with high biomass and energy yield levels, is “an above-average energy crop with a large potential for yield improvements” (Prade, 2012). Hemp’s “digestible concentration of cellulose and hemicellulose is higher than any other crop making it suitable for biofuel” (Ahmed, 2022).
Essentially, widespread usage of hemp-as-biofuel would decrease fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (Ahmed, 2022).
4. Hemp Can Make Paper
Since 105AD, hemp has proven helpful in paper making (Ahmed, 2022). “Since the twentieth century, wood has been considered the primary raw material in paper industries” (Ahmed, 2022). However, paper production has devastating effects on the communities around it, as it often uses toxic chemicals, exerts valuable energy, generates toxic waste, and impacts local water supplies (Smith, 2011).
A good alternative to wood-based paper may be hemp. It produces far more biomass than wood, “offering two times more usable fiber than forests” (Ahmed, 2022). This excess of hemp biomass allows for four times the amount of paper production (Ahmed, 2022). The rapid nature of hemp’s cultivation process is drastically faster than hardwood and softwood plants (Ahmed, 2022). Hemp can be harvested after four months; hardwood takes 8-12 years, and softwood takes 20-80 years (Ahmed, 2022).
Since 40% of raw materials for the paper industry come from wood, and 89-92% contribute to wood-based materials, there is a strong need for an alternative way to make paper (Ahmed, 2022). Hemp’s versatile, quick-growing, net-carbon-negative qualities position it as a strong contender.
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Chapman, A. (2022, June 17). Texas A&M receives $3.74m for green, 3D-printed Hempcrete Buildings Research. Texas A&M University Engineering. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://engineering.tamu.edu/news/2022/06/cven-texas-am-receives-374m-for-green-3d-printed-hempcrete-buildings-research.html
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