Kim Croes at SXSW

Community Impact Newspaper

By Edmond Ortiz | 

Speakers advancing the development of “hempcrete,” or hemp-based “concrete,” said at the South by Southwest festival March 11 that hempcrete should soon prove a cost-efficient and ecologically friendly way of construction in coming decades.

A SXSW panel discussion about carbon-zero construction featured Ray Kaderli, an entrepreneur, real estate investor and developer from the San Antonio area; Detroit-based FiberFort founder/owner Kim Croes; and Hempire International founder/CEO Sergiy Kovalenkov.

Kaderli told the audience he is developing a house on San Antonio’s west side using hempcrete with more traditional building materials to use as a demonstrative structure and a home to rent out.

President of the U.S. Hemp Building Association, Kaderli said hempcrete, which is developed from byproducts of hemp processing, is friendly to the environment and helps to ensure a healthier housing structure for inhabitants than traditional building material. Kaderli also said about 20,000 pounds of hempcrete have been applied at the west side housing project.

“That’s 20,000 pounds of carbon that’s sequestered out of the atmosphere,” he said. “You can make a quick impact with that.”

Croes said she switched careers from house painting to hempcrete construction after she became aware of toxins contained in traditional construction materials used in homes.

She founded FiberFort, a Michigan-based company to promote hempcrete as an effective, eco-friendly, cost-efficient way of construction.

“I wanted to find a more natural way of building,” Croes said, adding that there were multiple ways of applying hempcrete, including handcasting via manual labor, spraying or precast panels.

Croes also said hempcrete is vapor permeable, meaning even using it as insulation can help to regulate humidity in a structure.

Croes said she and other developers and advocates of hempcrete are working through benefits and challenges of the building material.

“Every technique with hempcrete has its plusses and minuses,” she said.

Kovalenkov cited data from nonprofit organization Architecture 2030 that says the traditionally built environment generates 40% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions.

“We live in a toxic world. We live and eat healthy but then by end of the day come back into an un healthy house,” Kovalenkov said.

Kovalenkov said, as time, research and advancements into the subject go along, using hempcrete is shown to have positive effects on the overall environment and one’s health inside a structure built with the material. He also said hempcrete can be just as durable as traditional building material, such as lumber, if not more so.

“This is a gold mine for architects and designers. You can shape any house with this material,” Kovalenkov said.

Kaderli said part of the challenge now is to increase cultivation of hemp and its derivatives for mass building material production. He added that U.S. Congress’ passage of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized industrial hemp development, was a boon to the sustainable construction industry.

Kaderli said as mass production of hempcrete increases, costs of such material will continue to drop.

“There’s a lot of innovation underway,” he added.

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