Carbon Life-Cycle

Carbon Lifecycle of Hemp

The future sustainability of our planet rests on several key factors, the primary one being the carbon footprint of our consumer desires. Whether it is in construction of our homes, the clothes and shoes we wear, the cars we drive or the maintenance of good quality soil. They all play a part in our future commitments to reducing our carbon footprint.

But what does this mean in practical terms;

1 - How can we effectively use Hemp to capture carbon from the atmosphere and reduce the amount of carbon, we are putting back into the atmosphere.

2 - How can we effectively turn waste biomass into low toxic Gas, Liquid and Solid that can be used to add back into the earth and maintain better soil quality. Or production of biofuels to power the cars of today and the future as well as fueling the reactors that maintain this conversion.

3 - Maybe its about maintaining excellent soil health just be growing hemp crops in the first place, replacing rape, soya, corn and many other crops that reduce soil health.

4 - What about the many grades of Fabrics that can be used to make all manner of clothing, plastics and polymers.

5 - We can also build housing using hempcrete and lime, which continues to absorb carbon from the atmosphere for over 100 years. Then there is also the insulating properties to ensure your home remains warm and thereby reducing the amount of heat being generated.

6 - Then there are the foods, proteins, medicinal cannabinoids. clothing, shoes, rope, canvas and many more consumables.

7 - Finally we have our beloved cars, our things of beauty, which incidentally can be made from hemp body panels, as well as dashboards, upholstery and carpets. Now we cant get away from burning this fuel and releasing carbon back into the environment with no toxic fumes, however it may be possible to build a carbon negative car and I don't mean electric cars.

Sustainable Farming

Challenge to Farming

I think we can all agree that we are living in an increasingly toxic world, stripping it of its resources and destroying the habitats to sustain life. We only have to see the headlines around climate change, extinction of species, reduction in fishing stocks and increasing pollution levels in our cities. These are real problems that require real solutions.

There were 7.3 billion people in 2015 and over the next 35 years that is expected to rise to over 9.7 billion. How are we going to sustain ourselves given that we are struggling in this task today. We are at a point in our evolution where we can do pretty much anything we want, so why not mend what we have broken and learn to work in harmony with nature to protect our environment. Surely that is the greatest expression of our advancement.

The challenge we need to grapple with is nothing less than this; how do we transform everything we do, including the systems by which we feed ourselves, in such a way that at the end of each day we have locked more carbon in the ground than we have emitted.?

To say 'this calls for a rethink of many basic assumptions' is to greatly understate the magnitude of the challenge. One of the key questions for farming is how to move it towards something that is diverse, robust, perennial, based not on tilling the soil but on building soil instead and be able to draw up its own nutrients and lock up carbon.

The agriculture industry have always cited 'cost' as being the main barrier to going organic, believing that pesticides, despite their costs, would result in a healthier, higher yield crop plan. The common belief has simply been that its not cost effective, and the research doesn't support that pesticides are bad for human health or the environment. 

Review publication below: United Nations - Adverse impact of pesticides on human rights.

However this is changing, the truth is coming out about the dangers and organic farmers are proving that it is indeed cost effective, to farm in the right way. A new study reveals that 'virtually all farms could significantly cut their pesticide use while still producing as much food'. Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.

The new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more.  The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production. The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types.

The report also cites that the main reason farmers are using pesticides is because the information they are given tells them to, which highlights the main problem of lack of impartial information with research that you can trust. Requiring farmers to be given an impartial balanced view on peer reviewed research, not only conducted and financed by the manufacturers. This represents a major conflict of interest that the government should impose greater constraints on this being possible.

Sustainable Construction

What are the benefits of Hemp used in construction ?

The Hemp block has a net negative carbon footprint, and has been given a A+ rating by the BRE.  Blocks are then dried naturally in the factory, thus allowing minimum water use on-site. This consideration allows for a fast build and consequently reduces the labour costs and results in a cleaner site. 

  • Hemp lime products support adaptable building practices, that can be used with the structural framing system to provide the support for the wall in both new build and extension applications. 
  • Hemp absorbs carbon dioxide as the plant grows and a normal house have about 30-40 tonnes of embodied carbon. Building with hemp saves, on an average residential build, 50 tonnes of CO2, providing a negative carbon footprint.
  • The lightweight nature of the wall means fewer supports and lighter foundations, saving cost and time. The structural frame is made from timber and the vapour permeable hemp block.
  • Hemp lime is a low energy building product. Construction costs can be lower than current traditional building materials. The products are lightweight, low density and this allows greater efficiency in transportation and handling as well as requiring shallower foundations.
  • The enhanced insulation and low U-value characteristics of hemp lime can deliver lower operational costs through reduced heating and cooling requirements.
  • The vapour permeability of the hemp lime products also means a reduction in the requirements for forced ventilation and de-humidification through the use of air-conditioning installations. The inherent durability of the lime binders means that the buildings will require less ongoing maintenance.
  • Hemp Lime products have a high thermal insulation, which radiates warmth in a building. Their high vapour permeability that facilitates the through transfer of humidity avoids condensation and trapped moisture within the building. This improves the building's air quality and controls humidity, as well as reduces the potential for growth of moulds and fungi that may affect occupant health.
  • The complete absence of solvents from the product range protects the construction workforce, occupants, and the environment.
  • Hemp blocks have the ability to absorb and hold heat (thermal mass) during sunny periods when heat is not needed for internal living or work spaces. The heat is then released when it is required, such as during overcast periods or at night, to provide substantial energy and cost savings.

Organisations working with hemp to provide a more sustainable future

Carbon action 2050

Hemp Crete

Sustainable Transport

Building the carbon negative car

One of the first things you think about when your considering climate change, is transportation with its dirty fuel, aluminium body's, plastic and leather interiors, rubber tyres, steal chassis, engine blocks and a myriad of pipes/tubes and cables. All in all a lot of stuff goes into manufacturing a car, which all have a carbon footprint.

But imagine a time when the car you are driving is considered carbon negative, meaning that the process of manufacturing and fueling consumption sequesters more carbon than it consumes. You might think that I am talking about the long awaited model 3 Tesla car from Elon Musk. Alas you are wrong, while this has captured the imagination of the media and environmental lobby groups, it still falls short of truly being carbon negative.

Let me introduce you to Bruce Dietzen of Renew Sports Cars in Florida. He has attempted to reproduce Henry Fords original idea of a fleet of Hemp cars, which he had produced in the 40's just before the breakout of the 2nd world war. The body work is made from hemp fabrics, producing a very strong, light weight, very durable and environmentally friendly alternative to aluminium. But also fueled from Hemp Biofuel.

Bruce has managed to recreate a modern version, using a Mazda mx-5 chassis with custom hemp body work and fueled on non toxic hemp biofuel or on standard fuel if bio fuel is not available. This is definitely the car for somebody who likes speed without the guilt of contributing to an environmental catastrophe. It also offers a real option to reduce our carbon footprint and shows a way forward for future developments. Hemp is used in some of today's cars, in body panels, dashboards and upholstery but on a very limited scale.

Now lets consider the electric car, we have Lithium and battery technology, the new oil of the middle east with vast reserves in Iranian mines. I wonder how this will effect foreign policy from the worlds super powers, maybe it already has. But Lithium still needs to be extracted, processed, manufactured and charged. If we consider that most nations on the planet are still using fossil fuels to power their national grids, all we are doing is moving and potentially increasing the problem in the short term, resulting in a not so green car after all.

But I think there is hope with ongoing research on the use of hemp, which spends its life sucking in huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, to provide an alternative to graphene at less than 1% of the production cost of traditional graphene, it may provide the answer with dual carbon battery technology. Its early days but scientists out there are looking at it, lets hope the funding doesn't stop and it gets shelved by those that pull the strings.

Elon Musk has challenged the established motor and oil industries and is bringing about change. What that change will look like has yet to be seen, but it would be great if it also offer a way to utilise existing vehicle investments running on carbon negative fuels and lighter renewable body shells and upholstery. 

Clearly the numbers need to stack up commercially to build the car, but also in the running of the car. Biodiesel and bioethanol offers the fuel to run in your existing cars as well as in the cars of the future and made completely from waste that would normally end up in a landfill.

I definitely think that electric is the future, but how long do we need to wait before technology catches up with our aspirations, we need to think about how we tackle the immediate problem and for me Hemp offers a significant choice.

So hopefully your starting to see how Hemp can play a major role in keeping our cars clean and provides a solution to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Issue 2 of this story will include more analysis of the numbers, but in the meantime go visit Bruce @ Renew Sports Cars and decide if you want to be an early adopter and have a great story to tell your friends. Alternatively register your interest on the home page and let me know what you think.