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Brief Published: 21 Feb 2020

Building Better With Hemp

Margent Farm

While already used for a variety of commercial applications – including textiles, bioplastics and biofuel – hemp is gaining traction as an eco-friendly building material. A notable advocate is British producer Margent Farm, which grows organic and sustainable hemp crops for use in construction and material development projects, among other things.

Hemp – a fast-growing strain of the cannabis plant – can offer a better alternative to some of our most polluting everyday materials because it matures quickly, requires little or no extra water or pesticides, and sequesters carbon dioxide as it grows. Its long roots also break up compacted soil, preparing the ground for the next crop.

Using its own hemp, Cambridgeshire-based Margent Farm has developed a cladding material as a natural alternative to corrugated steel, PVC and concrete. The product is formed using hemp fibres and a sugar-based resin made from agricultural waste (such as corncobs and oat husks), which are thermally pressed into the desired shapes. The end result – which becomes commercially available later this year – is strong, durable, and suitable for external or internal use.

To demonstrate hemp’s capabilities as a building material and to prototype the cladding, the farm worked with London-based Practice Architecture to build its own farmhouse on-site. The incredibly low-embodied-carbon house is made using hempcrete – a composite of hemp and lime – while the external walls are clad in the corrugated hemp-fibre sheets. The use of hemp here also ensures a healthy living environment; the material is breathable, meaning it regulates moisture in the air, resisting damp or mould.

Some furniture brands are starting to consider the potentially harmful effects their material palettes have on home environments. Read more in IMM Cologne 2020. For more on sustainable construction materials, see Materials for Future Cities and CMF Industry View: Architecture & Spaces.