By Robert Ziner | CIHC, Canada
Hemp has always been a better natural resource than trees. The truth is that hemp has not been legal in most parts of the world for the past 80 years and has never had a chance to compete on an equal footing with wood or other natural fibers.
Coming from 30 years of experience in wood processing and optimization, I was excited about hemp when I learned that the bast fiber in the stem is ten times stronger than the fiber in Douglas fir, the most revered softwood fiber for structural frames in the North American building industry. Finding a proprietary automated solution that would enable CIHC to become a low cost, high quality hemp fiber processor immediately made a lot of sense to me.
In terms of quality and performance, hemp fiber is probably the strongest and most durable fiber in nature. Hemp is not only ten times stronger than wood fiber, but also four times stronger than cotton.
Industrial hemp is easier and cheaper to process than wood. An acre of hemp planted for 40 years has 400% more usable fiber than an acre of trees during its 40-year life cycle. Hemp is the most efficient source of biomass in the world. In less than 91 days, the plant can produce stems to the stage where their fibers are full of CO2 and ready to be properly processed.
More and more scientific publications underline the other important properties of hemp: high absorption properties, protection against IR and UV radiation and naturally low flammability. Other new, promising tests also indicate natural antibacterial properties of hemp fiber, which are believed to result from alkaloids, cannabinoids, and other bioactive or phenolic compounds.
Hemp is also an attractive investment opportunity for companies looking for an effective way to “decarbonise” their goods – in other words, lower their carbon footprint. Due to the strong carbon storage capacity due to its high biomass content and low water content, hemp is probably the most sustainable fiber of them all.
Hemp plants have an exceptionally high ability to remove and contain CO2, which is much higher than that of trees. According to several scientific articles, one hectare of common hemp can absorb 8.88 tons of CO2 per year, while one hectare of forest binds about 2.5 tons – only about 30% that much.
But wait, there’s more. Our research has shown that hemp varieties grown for fiber generally provide up to five times the biomass of leftover “seed” stalk – up to 42 tons – and that the CO2 displacement when hemp replaces traditional raw materials is in End products such as plastic, textiles, steel, construction and other materials, CO2 can be reduced by up to 200 tons!
Although plants produce oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, this natural process decreases as the plants age. It seems logical that large trees with significant leaf area would produce more oxygen, especially because they live much longer than a hemp plant, but this is not true. While the capacity of older and larger trees to produce oxygen actually decreases, hemp is a fast-growing, large plant that can be harvested in just 12 weeks. Long before it can be “aged”, the system pumps oxygen at full throttle. This is great for common agronomy.
This interchangeability is crucial. With less than 5% of the United States’ virgin forest remaining, it only makes sense to plan for the future and protect the remnants of this once naturally balanced resource – and to use only one-sixth the area. We can help restore this balance by planting, harvesting, and processing hemp into the many cellulosic uses that have primarily been trees since wood paper replaced hemp paper across North America in the 1930s.
Cellulose is the main chemical that gives strength to paper and other composite products such as particle board and particle board. With a concentration of 72%, hemp bast has a higher cellulose concentration than wood, which only provides 42%. The more cellulose a plant contains, the fewer chemicals are needed to make paper. Hemp bast has the highest cellulose content of all plants.
Not only does hemp grow much faster than trees, but its high cellulose content also allows for faster and lower conversion costs and does not require the significant amounts of toxic chemicals required to process wood.
Making paper from wood requires pollutants such as sulfuric acid, bleach and chlorine to remove the non-cellulosic pulp during the pulping process. Hemp fibers, on the other hand, can be bleached with hydrogen peroxide, which does not chemically damage water. Additionally, compared to its wood pulp counterpart, paper made from hemp fiber resists degradation and does not yellow or tan with age.
Hemp fiber can play a central role in trade and economic development. The most important thing governments need to understand is the potential of hemp to heal the planet and promote human health. When hemp fibers gain momentum, the point is not to phase out other fibers and replace them entirely with hemp. The interesting thing about the “hemp business model” is that the synergies with existing industrial capacities are practically unlimited.
Unlimited. As always with hemp!
Robert Ziner is the founder and CEO of Canadian Industrial Hemp Corp. (CIHC) in Toronto, which is developing an advanced system for processing and optimizing hemp stems. Ziner has been active in building material distribution and secondary wood processing for more than 30 years.