Industrial Hemp – The World’s Newest Super Fiber!
Why the Renewed Interest in Natural Fibers?
Natural fibers are experiencing a renaissance as we move towards creating a more sustainable future. These materials are gaining favor over synthetics and man-made fibers such as polyester, rayon, and even spandex, which have high carbon footprints and take decades to compost back into the ecosphere! While synthetics are typically emitting GHGs into our atmosphere, plants like hemp, cotton, jute, and kenaf are the total opposites; they are carbon-sequestering machines! This, along with their functional properties, are why we are seeing a resurgence in bio-based products.
These natural materials that are now making a comeback have literally been around since the beginning of human history. Some ancient civilizations, as far back as the Neolithic era (10,000 BCE) began to cultivate plants such as cotton and domesticate animals like sheep. This provided us with a wealth of fibers from cotton and wool to flax and hemp.
They have been used for centuries in industry and manufacturing and these bio-based fibers, which come from plants and animals, are highly versatile and can be used in a variety of applications. Some bast fibers, like hemp, are renowned for their durability, strength, and breathability while also being sustainable and environmentally friendly. As such, they have become increasingly popular as the new “alternative” materials in the production of plastics, furniture, construction materials, and many more manufacturing applications.
For centuries the production of textiles, clothing, and other household goods depended solely on bio-based materials, simply because we didn’t yet have synthetics to choose from. In the mid-1900s, the synthetic materials boom took hold as plastics began to dominate the raw material feedstock for thousands of products. Today the tide is turning back to our roots in the wake of environmental awareness, and much more attention is being paid to bio-based materials and in particular, natural fibers.
From cotton to wool to silk, these fibers have played a vital role in human civilization. In recent years, there has been a certain fiber that has shown enormous potential, both as a carbon-negative material, and an extremely robust fiber – industrial hemp. This low/no THC variety of hemp is grown specifically for industrial purposes, including the production of fiber, and the uses of hemp have numerous benefits, including strength, durability, and sustainability.
Why Hemp? Why Now?
Hemp fiber has really been gaining a lot of popularity recently, due to its numerous industrial applications ranging from plastics and rubbers to paper and corrugated production, as well as its recent deregulation by way of the Farm Bill of 2018.
Its versatility, strength, and durability make it an excellent choice for a variety of raw materials and functional additives and it has numerous benefits over other natural fibers. How does it stack up? Here are some of hemp’s benefits over other common bio-based fibers:
- Strength: Hemp fibers are incredibly strong and durable. In fact, hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers known to man, and it is up to three times stronger than cotton. This incredible strength makes it ideal for use in a wide range of applications, including aerospace, automotive, medical, sports equipment, and consumer paper products.
- Sustainability: Hemp is one of the most sustainable plants out there. It requires significantly less water than other crops to grow, and it can be cultivated without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Additionally, hemp plants have a short growing cycle (90 days!), which means they can be harvested multiple times per year, further reducing their impact on our environment.
- Versatility: Hemp fibers can be used in a wide range of applications, from plastic additives to concrete and construction products and of course clothing and textiles. The versatility of hemp makes it an attractive option for industries looking for sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to traditional materials.
You might be surprised at seeing plastics on this list; however, Heartland has been working for nearly three years now on polymer additive research and has been able to successfully functionalize our Imperium products into a wide range of plastics. Even those that were thought to be nearly impossible to be compatible with natural fibers (like PA6) are now showing positive results in the lab. The engineering doesn’t stop there either, we’ve been able to successfully augment asphalt, rubber, paper, and cardboard with our Imperium products.
Overall, hemp ranks at the top compared to other natural fibers in terms of strength, sustainability, versatility, and comfort. Its unique properties and benefits make it an attractive option for a wide range of industries, and its use will continue to grow in the coming years.
Are There Other Benefits From Hemp Fiber?
The short answer is “Yes”, and they start with sustainability benefits.
Hemp fiber is quickly becoming a go-to choice for eco-friendly materials due to its high carbon sequestration benefits. Heartland has completed a full LCA (to ISO 14040 standards) that scientifically proves our Imperium product is carbon-negative at a ratio of 2.85:1! And that’s cradle to gate, there’s even more carbon sequestered in the growing process.
Industrial hemp fiber is also making a big impact on farming. The overall versatility of this plant is making it an attractive option for sustainable agriculture, especially in the practice of cover cropping. Hemp has many benefits to soil health and even pulls heavy metals out of the ecosphere due to its incredibly robust root systems, plus it leaves behind a plethora of nutrients for the next crop cycle. Furthermore, hemp fiber is biodegradable and can break down naturally in soil or water without leaving behind any harmful chemicals. With all of these benefits, industrial hemp is an excellent choice for eco-minded farmers.
Industrial hemp fiber is naturally resistant to wear and tear, and we know it makes an ideal choice for textiles for clothing, but did you know it can also be used for industrial matting? Hemp is currently being tested by Heartland and our research partners to create a 100% bio-based sheeting material for a myriad of manufacturing processes.
Hemp fiber is the go-to material for other items due to its strength and resilience. Not only is it resistant to wear and tear, but hemp fiber also has natural anti-bacterial properties, making it an excellent material for items in need of protection against bacteria…think paper plates, plastic cutlery, and cups! As such, hemp fiber offers a great option for manufacturers seeking the sustainability advantages of natural fibers without sacrificing durability or costs.
There are also economic benefits of utilizing industrial hemp in manufacturing, and first on that list is lighter weight. Hemp, while extremely strong, is also lighter weight and more voluminous than say, a mined material. This is an efficiency benefit in virtually all applications (lighter raw materials mean lighter products), but especially in mobility. If you can make something lighter, you make it more energy efficient – think cars, motorcycles, trucks, planes, trains, boats, bicycles… you get the idea!
Automakers are even more keen on the idea of lightweighting today because of EVs. Rough estimates are that just by reducing the weight of the car parts by 20%, we can see an increase in the range of electric vehicles of 15% or more.
On top of that, we know that current Lithium-Ion battery technology (used in virtually every EV), is labor-intensive and very taxing on the environment. Rare earth metals used in these batteries are scarce, and incredibly difficult and costly to extract from the planet. Current research into battery and energy storage technology is looking at industrial hemp – not only compounded into the plastic outer casings but also the internal conductors and dielectric elements of the devices. What a fantastic thrust forward it would be to have a bio-based battery to go into your EV!
We see Industrial Hemp as an increasingly popular natural fiber that offers so many economic benefits for manufacturers and brands. On the farming side, hemp also requires less water and energy to produce than other fibers, resulting in lower costs and higher profits for the producer. Additionally, hemp’s rapid growth rate makes it easier to sustainably cultivate for long-term use, and this will feed a rapidly expanding supply chain. For all of these reasons, hemp has become the go-to choice for businesses and consumers looking for reliable and cost-effective natural fiber options.
Join us in creating a carbon negative future.