Industrial hemp has several uses that have been exploited from thousands of years back. The hemp plant has formed part of the livelihoods of communities providing the numerous benefits that are discussed below. Unfortunately, due to the strong association with cannabis, hemp is outlawed or highly regulated in many countries.
Industrial hemp is a type of hemp that is grown specifically to be used for industrial purposes. It is different from medicinal hemp which is grown for therapeutic purposes. However, both types of hemp originate from Cannabis Sativa species.
7 Important Uses of Industrial Hemp
Fuel is a by-product of hemp cultivation. Hemp fuel comes from the oils in the seeds as well fibrous stalks (biomass). The seeds account for half the weight of mature plants; this means that the hemp plant produces a significant amount of fuel from hemp seeds.
Hemp oil from the seeds can be used to make non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, ink, and detergents. An acre of industrial hemp plants will produce up to 22 gallons of oil.
Hemp biomass is a major source of clean ethanol fuel.
2. Biodegradable plastics
Hemp is used to produce non-petroleum based plastics that are environmentally friendly. These plastics are derived from hemp cellulose and used to make a range of hemp plastics. Hemp can also be combined with other plant material to make composite bioplastics.
3. A source of paper
Industrial hemp can be used to produce paper that is of higher quality as compared to tree-derived paper. An acre of hemp produces twice as much paper as compared to an acre of trees. Hemp paper is not only biodegradable but it is also recyclable.
4. Hemp Construction
Hemp can be used to provide a cheap source of environmentally friendly construction materials. The woody inner core of hemp stems can be used to produce fiberboard that is strong, durable, and light. It is also water and fire proof. This can be used in construction as a substitute for wood.
5. Industrial hemp is a rich source of high-quality fiber.
An acre of hemp yields up to 1,300 pounds of industrial fiber which is twice or three times the amount of fiber produced from an acre of cotton. Hemp fiber is softer than cotton fiber and also lasts longer. Hemp fiber is also resistant to mildew.
6. Lastly, industrial hemp is also beneficial as a rotational crop
Industrial hemp is a low maintenance crop that does well in different climatic conditions (all 50 states). It takes between 70-140 days to mature which is a very short time compared to similar crops. In between growing seasons, it can be used to improve soil conditions and fight weeds. The plants grow tightly together leaving no room for weeds to flourish. The plants are also resistant to frost, molds, pests, and disease. The extensive root system helps to improve soil aeration as well.
7. Hemp has environmental benefits when used as a source of fiber
Unlike wood and cotton fiber, hemp requires fewer chemicals to process. Industrial hemp has lower lignin amounts as compared to wood. Its bright color also means that it requires less chemical bleaching.
Because industrial hemp is resistant to pests and disease, it reduces the amounts of pesticides and herbicides used. The extensive root system reduces the risk of soil erosion which is another environmental benefit.
The Future of Industrial Hemp
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp (both industrial and medicinal) in the US. Industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for it to be legal in the US. Strains with low THC have more fiber and are better for industrial use.
To grow industrial hemp in the US, one would need to obtain a permit from the DEA even though it is now classified as an agricultural crop.
The retail value of combined hemp products in the US was $820 million in 2017. With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it is expected that this figure will shoot through the roof as more uses for industrial hemp are discovered and exploited.