Biden Administration May Catalyze Hemp Fiber Segment

By Trevor Yahn-Grode, Data Analyst, New Frontier Data

President-elect Joe Biden’s team has already outlined the incoming administration’s $1.7 trillion plan for achieving 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050. The proposal includes major financial investment and jobs commitment to restoring infrastructure and retrofitting buildings to meet emissions standards. As the race to reduce emissions intensifies, it may serve as a catalyst to the rapidly developing hemp fiber industry.

Hemp fiber can be used to manufacture a wide variety of carbon-friendly products. With regards to mass-scale decarbonization, the two most promising sectors are natural fiber composites, and construction materials.

Natural fibers composites – increasingly manufactured from hemp – include products such as automotive parts, plastic, and wood alternatives. These respectively have outstandingly low CO2 footprints when compared to traditional materials like fiberglass, since natural fiber products absorb CO2 during their growth period, and trap that CO2 into the product during its manufacture. If done efficiently, such products actually wind up being carbon-negative, meaning that they will absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than emitted to manufacture them.

Hemp-based construction materials offer a compelling means for builders to reduce emissions without sacrificing quality. Globally, the construction and operation of buildings is responsible for a reported 39% of all CO2 emissions[1]. Of that, 28% comes from the operational emissions (i.e., energy used to heat, cool, or light buildings), and 11% comes from embodied carbon within construction materials and the construction process. Hempcrete – a mixture of hemp hurd, lime, and water which can be used as a non-load-bearing replacement for drywall and other materials – has attracted a large amount of media attention, as it can purportedly reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously increasing the energy efficiency of a home. Other carbon-friendly materials made from hemp and available for the construction process include cellulose insulation, particleboard, and flooring.


Hempcrete blocks for use in construction

The push to make hemp part of the decarbonization of the production economy in the U.S. mirrors events overseas. In Europe, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) recently published a “Hemp Manifesto for a Green Recovery, calling on EU member governments to include hemp in the European Green Deal, citing the “huge potential of the European hemp sector in speeding up the transition towards a zero-emission, bio-based, and sustainable economy”, and touting the plant’s ability to “deliver long-term sustainable growth and create highly skilled jobs”.

Proponents of hemp argue that government investment is necessary to overcome the disadvantages which the industry faces in being reintroduced to infrastructure construction after an 80-year prohibition, and the competitive pricing disadvantages it faces when compared to heavily subsidized petroleum-based materials.

However encouraging the Democratic Climate Action Plan appears to be for the hemp fiber industry, it faces significant obstacles to implementation. President Trump has yet to concede the election, 10 weeks remain for the presidential transition, and a split Congress may force obstruction or a scaled-back approach to the policies proposed. Still, as the climate crisis continues and the push for a carbon-neutral economy shifts from a political goal to a practical necessity, hemp fiber products are becoming increasingly attractive to the mainstream.