Hemp for construction: Transforming built environment in the UK
Avon Hemp Solutions (AHS) was founded in 2019 with the vision to help decarbonise the built environment in the UK by supplying hemp-derived, carbon-negative, and financially viable building materials to the construction industry. The business model will be fully vertically integrated – thus, the business will directly control or subcontract growing areas; plant, cultivate and harvest the crop; supply pre-prepared (retted) hemp straw to the processing plant where it will be separated into three raw materials; shiv, fibre and dust. After, each raw material will be directed to carefully selected end products including hemp fibre insulation, hemp blocks, and more.
In light of the UK Government’s commitment to a “green’ agenda and a zero carbon economy by 2050 (and a significant reduction by 2035), we anticipate the policy trends are aligned with to our business concept, encouraging companies, especially in the UK construction sector (which is a major carbon polluter), to consider Avon Hemp Solutions’ offer and solutions.
Operations of AHS
The hemp-derived building products that we will directly and indirectly produce will be carbon negative – they will store more CO2 than is emitted during production. This is because within 4-5 months the hemp plant reaches heights of up to 5 meters, producing massive amounts of biomass and thus sequestering substantial quantities of CO2. So much so that one hectare of hemp will be able to sequester between 10-15 tonnes of CO2, making hemp a far superior sequester of carbon dioxide than trees. As a result, AHS’s first project will sequester about 30,000 tonnes of CO2. While AHS will release a small proportion of that during the harvesting and processing stages, realistically a net 20,000 tonnes of CO2 will be locked-up in AHS’s building materials. The quantity of carbon stored within the harvested industrial hemp, combined with AHS following best-in-class practices to keep carbon emissions minimal throughout the supply chain, will result in the creation of significant quantities of carbon-negative materials.
AHS will lead the way in the hemp industry through its pioneering work with the Pond Foundation to accredit the carbon that is locked up within the building materials. The accreditation will be based on using reliable and efficient methodologies to ensure the sequestration of carbon dioxide across the whole manufacturing process is indisputable. Once accredited, AHS will be able to sell real carbon (negative) credits to polluting businesses (including multi-national corporations). Any additional revenues subsidise the operating costs required to manufacture the hemp-based construction materials, enabling AHS to price competitively in the market relative to existing heavily polluting building products and other naturally produced materials.
The combination of an easily substitutable, carbon negative and affordable construction material provides a huge opportunity for decarbonising the built environment within the UK.
What makes AHS an exceptional business model is the ESG benefits the project brings across the whole supply chain. From the field to a person's home, AHS is equipped with the necessary tools and expertise to go beyond what is needed to be considered a socially responsible business, especially from an environmental standpoint - for example:
- Hemp protects the environment
- a. it can be grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides or fungicides
- b. hemp is in the top 5 out of 23 crops for biodiversity friendliness, performing better than all major crops such as wheat, maize or rapeseed
- Hemp can sequester carbon
- a. Its rapid growth makes it one of the fastest CO2-to-biomass conversion tools available, and significantly more efficient than agro-forestry. As for AHS’s first project, it is expected that 20,000 tonnes of CO2 will be captured and locked up To give this some context, once a tree has matured (the fastest is between 10-20 years), it can absorb on average 25kgs of CO2 per year, thus you need 40 mature trees to absorb a tonne. To capture 20,000 tonnes of CO2 you would need 800,000 mature trees!
- Hemp restores soil health
- a. Due to its impressive growth, industrial hemp can outgrow any completing weeds (e.g. black grass), and because hemp produces a very thick canopy, it overshadows and kills off the weeds.
- b. Hemp is also well known for phytoremediation; 'cleaning' land polluted by heavy metals.
- c. It is a valuable preceding crop in rotations, and studies can verify when wheat has been planted after a rotation of hemp, a farmer can expect their wheat yields to increase by 20% because the soil is left in good condition.
- d. The 3m tap root and dense network of roots give hemp the ability to prevent soil erosion and once the hemp is harvested, the roots add to the organic matter – directly increasing the fertility of the soil.
- Hemp is drought resistant: research has uncovered that industrial hemp can survive, and thrive when grown under low moisture conditions, proving the crop is incredibly drought tolerant.
The UK has just experienced one of the worst droughts in a decade, as shown in the picture below, AHS’s field of industrial hemp (bottom image, bottom left field) is green, luscious, and thriving, while the maze fields surrounding it, on the contrary, are dying and desperate for irrigation. The top image shows the UK from a satellite view taken on 11th August 2022 – a terrifying image of how swathes of Britain are being baked into a Sahara-like desert. Under these conditions – the hemp that AHS planted was given no additional irrigation, fertiliser, pesticides or herbicides and it grew to about 3.5 meters. This magnificent plant is truly the crop of the future.