Builders are swapping cement for weed to reduce pollution

Six years after setting up shop in the shadow of Calgary’s tar sands, Mac Radford, 64 says he can’t satisfy all the orders from builders for earth-friendly that helps them limit their carbon footprint. His company, JustBioFiber Structural Solutions, is on the vanguard of business using hemp, the Boeing cousin of marijuana devoid of psychoactive content, to mitigate the greenhouse gases behind global warming.
Around the world, builders are putting modern twists into ancient construction methods that employ the hearty hemp weed. Roman engineers used the plants sinewy fibers in the mortar they mixed to hold up bridges. Former White House advisor Steve Brannon weighed in on using so-called hempcrete to build walls. Early resulted indicate it’s possible to tap demand for cleaner alternatives to cement.
“We have way more demand than we can supply,” said Radford from his plant in Airdrie, which is undergoing expansion and soon churn out enough Lego-like hemp bricks each year to build 2000 homes.
Cement makers are responsible for about 7% of global carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere every year, with copious volumes entering via limestone kilns needed to produce the material. Manufacturers say they struggle to find markets for greener alternatives, giving easy entree to entrepreneurs like Radford who cater to customers concerned about their compact on the earth.

“They’ll love it once they understand it,” said Radford of the builders who’ve adopted the modular, inter-locking bricks he invented for their projects. “Our old practices we have to change.”
While architects and developers have traditionally concentrated on the energy used by their buildings once they are standing. The brunt of a structure’s lifetime carbon footprint. Replacing high-carbon intensity materials like cement with greener alternatives like hemp can dramatically reduce or even offset greenhouse gas pollution.

Hemp fields absorb carbon when they’re growing. After harvest, the crop continues to absorb greenhouse gases as it is mixed with lime or clay. Hempcrete structures also have better ventilation, fire resistance and temperature regulation, according to their proponents.
Numbers across the industry vary depending on the process, but JustBioFiber says that its hemp captures 130 kilograms (287 pounds) of carbon dioxide for each cubic meter it builds. Those structures made with their bricks will sequester more greenhouse gases than they emit in production. By contrast, each ton of cement produced emit half a ton of carbon dioxide, according to the European Cement Association.

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