The versatile material can replace the wood in floors, furniture and more
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Spotted: Wood is a highly sought-after material for flooring, furniture and accent walls. It is warm and attractive, but it is also not highly sustainable, especially if it is a slow-growing hardwood. Now a company in the US, HempWood, has developed a new type of wood substitute — made from hemp.
Hemp has long been noted for its versatility, but HempWood have developed a new process that can turn hemp fibres into sustainable wood alternatives. Part of the appeal is that hemp grows very quickly and is ready for harvest in around 120 days – compared to the decades or even hundreds of years it takes for tree-based woods such as oak, hickory and maple. Moreover, every part of the hemp plant can be used, meaning there is no waste to dispose of. Although HempWood primarily uses the bottom part of the plant, the upper parts can be used for chicken feed, amongst other things.
Hemp also offers wider sustainability advantages – the hemp can be grown on “farms” and harvested without damaging delicate habitats, as opposed to when trees are cut down in forests. Like wood however, hemp is biodegradable. To create HempWood, the plants are first crushed to break down the cell structure. Then the fibres are placed into vats of soy protein, then mixed with water and an organic acid used in the kitchen roll industry. The result is a bit like wooden papier mache – but much stronger.
HempWood is also dedicated to low-carbon manufacturing, even going so far as to use low-power LED bulbs throughout the buildings, and a bio-burner that heats the plant using material off-cuts. The company’s hemp is grown within 100 miles of the factory too, to reduce transportation miles. According to the company, “HempWood brings a durability that is almost double the strength of traditional oak. It is also as easy to work as traditional wood, with less negative impacts on the environment. The values of this material are innumerable.”
According to some statistics, the average American uses more than a ton of wood each year. That is a lot of trees. So, finding a more sustainable substitute is important, which may be why we are seeing a number of options being developed. These include lab-grown wood and the use of recycled plastic as a wood substitute in building.
Written By: Lisa Magloff