Hemp Stands to Benefit from Biden Climate Plan
On the first day of his administration, President Joe Biden begins the long process of implementing his ambitious Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice. The climate plan – which proposes roughly $5 trillion of investment spending from the private sector, and federal and state governments – is the most significant coordinated action taken against climate change in American history.
The plan envisions a drastic decarbonization of the U.S. economy and commits to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Industrial hemp, whose advocates frequently tout the plants environmental benefits, stands to gain from the proposed Biden climate plan.
Like all other crops, hemp grows through photosynthesis. That means that it takes in CO2 and releases oxygen, while storing carbon in the very structure of the plant itself (i.e., the fibers, hurd, and seed). Products made from hemp then trap the carbon in the form of whatever product is being manufactured, be it a t-shirt, building materials, or a plastic spoon. In a real way, hemp products are manufactured by transforming carbon in the atmosphere into usable goods. Carbon offsets mean that hemp products can achieve carbon-neutral or possibly carbon-negative status. Even if manufacturing processes fail to achieve net-negative carbon emissions, hemp-based materials still outperform petroleum-based materials, as half of the emissions savings would be derived by not having to extract the petroleum in the first place. It is theoretically possible with many crops, but what separates hemp is the plant’s versatility. Indeed, industrial hemp is one of the few natural resources at humans’ disposal whose versatility can compare to oil’s.
Technologies like the electric car, solar or wind energy, and green hydrogen can drastically reduce the use of oil for gasoline or energy production, but nearly 30% of oil consumption is dedicated to producing plastics, chemicals, and other materials. Such “unsexy” industries enjoy almost none of the attention of more exciting decarbonization measures (i.e., wind, solar, etc.), but are nevertheless essential to decarbonization. President Biden’s plan focuses heavily on those industries. There are over 25,000 emissions-saving products that can be manufactured from industrial hemp, and the catalogue spreads over dozens of industries, particularly those industries targeted by the new administration’s plan. Among examples of how industrial hemp might fit into the picture:
Auto Industry & Transit
Natural fiber composites (often called bio-composites) automotive parts are among the primary products which can be manufactured from hemp fiber, replacing petroleum-based composites. Hemp-based, bio-composite parts can reduce the weight of an automobile up to 25% without sacrificing strength or functionality, thereby both increasing fuel efficiency and reducing fuel consumption. According to a study out of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the fuel savings associated with widespread adoption of bio-composite materials in automobiles could achieve a reduction of between 150 and 220 billion (with a “b”) pounds of CO2 per annum. Those emissions savings could be magnified if applied to public transit, a central focus of the Biden climate plan.
Housing & Green Buildings
Traditional construction materials like fiberglass insulation, drywall, and wood flooring are responsible for nearly as many emissions as the energy-inefficient homes they are used to build. Industrial hemp can offer carbon-neutral, energy-efficient, and cost-comparable alternatives to traditional construction materials. Products like hempcrete – a building material made from hemp hurds and chemical lime – can be used to replace or reduce both drywall and fiberglass insulation. In addition to being carbon-neutral, hempcrete can reduce energy costs during the use phase. The monolithic structure of hempcrete creates an airtight mass with minimal heat loss, resulting in low thermal conductivity, high thermal capacity, and high insulation values. It can improve energy efficiency, which in turn further reduces carbon emissions and helps homeowners reduce utility bills. Other hemp-based building materials include insulation batting, particleboard, and flooring products.
The climate plan explicitly calls for “decarbonizing the food and agriculture sector and leveraging agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the ground”.
Hemp’s potential to remediate soils and sequester carbon makes it an ideal candidate for the approach. Earth’s soil contains about 2,500 gigatons of carbon, or 3x the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere, and 4x as much carbon as is stored in all living plants and animals. Healthy soil is required for modern agriculture, while damaged soils release huge amounts of CO2 back into the atmosphere, causing erosion which increases the amount of dust and particulates in the air, then damaging crops. Soils contaminated by heavy manufacturing or industrial accidents can no longer be used for anything productive. Worldwide, the damage from soil loss costs roughly $400 billion a year.
Hemp can help heal damaged soils by reducing the amounts of herbicides and pesticides required to grow high-yield commodity crops. Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, going from seed to harvest in just about 100 days. It quickly creates a canopy which casts any weeds that might be growing around it into shadow, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for herbicides.