The 10th International Hemp Building Association Symposium takes place this year in Lacapelle Marival, France, from the 11th to 12th of October. As ever, this event promises to be a showcase of the latest technologies in building with hemp from around the world, along with interesting applications for hemp fibers in other industries, in particular the textile industry.
With the rising interest in environmentally friendly and sustainable building materials, the popularity of using hemp raw materials in building projects is spreading. As a result, new technologies are emerging to make the process more efficient. In this interview with International Hemp Building Association founder, Steve Allin, he explains what people can expect from the 10th edition of this event, the history of the industry, and the implications of working with hemp.
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Question: Why did you start the International Hemp Building Association Symposium?
Allin: It was a result of hosting the first symposium here in my hometown of Kenmare in 2009. That event attracted so much interest from so many different parties from around the world we realized it was time to get together to discuss this technology and the materials, as well as all the implications of using these materials. I was one of the early adopters in the industry, and was in contact with various people. There was a project in France in the 80s, and in the early 90s, other projects popped up around Europe, which is when the industry began to really get going.
Back then, there was a lot of discussion going on, ideas about how best to use the materials that were developing quickly. Many people were coming up with ideas for what to mix hemp shiv with, what types of binders to use. So, it became obvious to me, it was the right time to bring all these people and ideas together, which resulted in the event in Kenmare. We hosted a 3-day event and it was a great success, with more than 70 people from around the world, and from then on, we decided to create a formal association.
Question: What is the goal of the International Hemp Building Symposium?
Allin: We want to do a few things. First, we want to add value to the farm, and give more farmers reason to grow hemp. But we also aim to tackle the question of how to demonstrate hemp as a building material while also taking into consideration the wider implications of the plant.
Question: What are some of the implications of growing industrial hemp?
Allin: There’s no point growing hemp unless you have access to some kind of industrial processor. Unfortunately, it was a huge disaster in the U.S. when lots of people decided to get into growing vast fields of “industrial hemp.” I use inverted commas because they were growing the plants for CBD and that material isn’t really useful for anything else, which meant the market there was flooded, creating terrible outcomes on many levels.
Industrial hemp is a different plant that produces fibers, biomass, wood chips and has seeds. Each one of those has to be part of the processing system and that’s why the topic of hemp connects with so many other industries. This plant can provide solutions to all sorts of problems for humanity in general because it covers the basics: food, shelter and clothing. These are things everyone needs, which is what makes hemp so unique.
Question: What kind of solutions does building with hemp offer?
Allin: We’re offering all kinds of solutions with hemp building. First, the raw materials don’t need a huge amount of processing and are low energy. But more importantly, we’re creating building materials that are carbon-negative, so materials that pull carbon out of the atmosphere, and store it. And even though these materials can store carbon, they drastically reduce the amount of carbon inside buildings, which has huge implications for health. And hemp is easy to work with, doesn’t involve lifting heavy blocks that demand lots of strength. Any healthy person, man or woman, can build a house with hemp. It’s an equal opportunities employer.
Question: What makes the Hemp Symposium different from other hemp conferences?
Allin: The plan from the beginning was to host a symposium in a different place every year. Even though that creates a lot more in terms of organization, the aim is to bring people to see projects in development. Rather than standing around conference halls talking about these things, we want to get people physically involved, and show the raw materials and technologies in action. It’s the best way to promote a new technology because it enables people to get a real grasp of it.
Question: Why is the membership of the Hemp Building Association so diverse?
Allin: When we set up the association there was no real need for a national association as no market was big enough. But when you put all the activity together, and look at the global implications, it’s a different story. Hemp can be grown in so many different locations, and has different implications for energy needs in hot or cold, wet or dry climates. Plus, every country has different codes and regulations. So, to really understand it, and uncover ways to adopt new technologies, a global perspective is required. We’re currently working with the U.S. Hemp Building Association and the European Industrial Hemp Association to create a building code for Europe, and there’ll be presentations about that at this year’s symposium.
Question: What new tech will people see at this year’s symposium?
Allin: This year we’ve got the most amazing collection of new technologies, including demonstrations by at least three different spray machines, if not more. The demonstrations on the program include AKTA-BVP, Baumer, and Tecnocanapa. This is a demonstration of mixing hemp shiv and applying it to walls. We also have a new processor demonstration of a new medium-scale machine, which processes hemp at a scale that many small communities could achieve. It produces both building materials but also high-quality fiber materials to be used by the textile industry.
That versatility drives up the value of hemp by creating a new application, which makes this a very interesting machine. But there’s lots of research going on at the moment about different ways hemp can mixed and applied, and those projects will be on display too. There are lots of projects testing hemp in extreme environments. One project is a 12-story hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, and another is a hostel in the Himalaya Mountains with a hemp envelope.
Question: What is the current trend in the hemp building industry?
Allin: Right now, there’s a move towards pre-fabricated blocks or panels, or modular housing systems. One of the largest markets for hemp is retrofitting. We’re interested in restoring the buildings that people currently use for work and living.
Question: How is hemp used by the textile industry?
Allin: Right now, hemp fiber is used by the clothing industry as a blend for linen, so a percentage of a linen cloth might be hemp to create a more ecological material. Hemp is far more environmentally friendly to grow than flax. Also, there are a lot of supply chain issues in the textile industry at the moment due to the shortage of flax. And it looks like it might be a permanent problem. Which is why the focus has shifted to hemp as a way to produce fine textiles in order to replace flax in the linen industry.
That said the most common use of hemp fibers is for the cotton industry, which is an incredibly fast and complex system of producing yarns. To fit hemp fiber into that model is not easy, as it’s difficult to get the same fineness from hemp. But the machinery that’s in place is designed to work with cotton, which is why they get such good results. The technology to get similar results from hemp is just not there
Question: But this new textile technology to be presented at the symposium gets similar results?
Allin: Exactly. We want to demonstrate how this processor can produce fibers in a way that’s applicable to the textile industry. The machine produces a fairly clean and lined material that can then be used for ribbon making to make woven sheets of finer material. Because it’s lined, the material can also be put through various carding and chopping machines, basically cut into short lengths so it can be used in the cotton industry. This is another huge market opportunity for hemp, and outside of China, the market isn’t being supplied.
To see the program for the 10th International Hemp Symposium Building Association, click here:https://internationalhempbuilding.org/10th-international-hemp-building-symposium-programme/
Hotel info can be found here.
The projects in Nepal are instigated by S.H.I.V.
The project in India: http://www.himalayanhempecostay.com/
This is must-see event for anyone interested in the future of building with hemp.
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