Hemp: An old crop finding new applications as an eco-friendly alternative

Hemp: An old crop finding new applications as an eco-friendly alternative

By Sriraksha Srinivasan

One of the oldest textile-relics in human history is a hemp fabric dated to approximately 8000 BC from ancient Mesopotamia. It is a variety of the Cannabis sattiva plant, but is frequently confused for its psychoactive cousin – marijuana. Over the last 10,000 years, hemp has been utilized for a multitude of applications– from clothes, paper, and cordage, to modern-day automobiles and musical instruments, some of which we outline in this article.

While there are several uses for this material, the one thing it can’t be used for is to get intoxicated. However, as a result of long-term prohibition in the last century on cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties in several countries, this industrial raw material, remained less explored. However, given its plethora of advantages, particularly its ability to grow in a variety of climates and soil types, and its natural resistance to most pests, it is of no surprise that hemp is making a comeback in several industries. 

Hemp driving the automobile industry

One interesting aspect of hemp is its use in the automobile industry. Initiated by Henry Ford in the 1940s as an experiment towards producing eco-friendly products, Ford built a car that contained cellulose fibers reportedly derived from hemp, sisal, and wheat straw, although the precise formula has been lost to history.

Over the years, several such automobiles have followed, such as the Eco Elise launched in 2008, a greener version of Lotus’ Elise S model. The novelty of this automobile lay in its higher fuel efficiency and performance, and a drop in its overall weight by 32 kg in comparison with the standard Elise S.

The latest to join the bandwagon is the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, with hemp and flax fibers in its body panels, making it the first race car containing components made of this sustainable material.

New Cayman GT4 Clubsport, 2019, Porsche AG
The new 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. Source: Porsche.

Flying high with hemp

If we can make cars, then why not planes? Hempearth, a Canadian hemp firm, is set to construct an entire aircraft made from, and powered by, hemp. Starting from the wings to the walls, to even the interior upholstery, it is a starting material for this aircraft, which can seat 4 passengers and 1 pilot.

“Building a plane, especially out of hemp and running it on hemp biofuel is not about the destination, its about the journey. Keep watching!”

– Derek Kesek Founder at Hempearth Group

It is of note that if an aircraft can be built largely out of hemp, even non-cannabis smokers can safely get ‘high’ on this plane, if it sees commercial success in the future. Outside of this aviation ambition, Hempearth also currently sells other products such as 100 percent hemp surfboards, paddleboards , and eco-tapes.

Everyday products

Do hemp products have a role in daily life too? Yes. The toilet paper predominantly used in most parts of the world has been responsible for Canada losing a large portion of its forest coverage as most toilet paper is made of wood from the Canadian boreal forests. Therefore, when the need for an eco-friendly solution arose, hemp was put forth as a feasible alternative by companies like Hempies Paper and HempSoSoft, since the toilet paper made of this extract is recyclable, biodegradable and the raw material is easier to cultivate when compared to the forest covers that are being compromised otherwise. Furthermore, hemp is now even being used to manufacture cosmetic products and musical instruments

The future of hemp

Given the versatility and eco-friendliness of this material, it is of no surprise that manufacturers are turning to hemp as a substitute for several other raw materials. The decriminalization of the cultivation and sale of it, due to its mistaken association with marijuana could potentially revive and create a range of industries to meet the demands of our changing world, both economically and environmentally. 

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