It’s dusty and hot in Tasmania’s only hemp stalk processing factory, and these women are working up a sweat.
They’re producing hemp hurd, the main component in “hempcrete” — a building material gaining renewed interest because of its low carbon footprint.
“Hempcrete as a building material is highly insulating, it’s non-combustible, so it actually won’t ignite,” X-Hemp’s managing director, Andi Lucas, said.
“It’s fantastic for bushfire areas, that type of thing, it’s a very attractive option for people who are looking to build environmentally sustainable homes.
“Hemp basically sequesters carbon through the growth cycle of the plant and the building’s life cycle.”
Hempcrete produced by X-Hemp will be used to fit out the interior of the University of Tasmania’s (UTAS) $131 million forestry and timber yards redevelopment.
The north-Tasmanian business was started by Ms Lucas — who is also president of the Tasmanian Hemp Association — to operate as a female-owned and run enterprise that produces sustainable hemp products.
“We’re incredibly excited to be asked to supply material to a huge project that UTAS are building in Hobart and the old forestry building,” she said.
“It’ll be the largest hempcrete building in the southern hemisphere and all of that hemp is being locally grown and processed in Tassie, which is amazing.”
“I think that natural builders have known for decades how good it is and now hempcrete is coming into mainstream commercial building, which is an exciting development.”
Industry looks overseas for inspiration
Tasmanian hemp seed processor Tim Crow has spent 12 weeks overseas as part of a Churchill Fellowship.
“I went through France and saw big fibre producers, and into the Netherlands as well,” he said.
“That’s where they produce fibre which is put into composites — BMW and Mercedes put them into car door panels.”
Mr Crow said hemp insulation is slightly more expensive but because standard insulation is incredibly energy intensive to produce, the price gap is closing.
He also spent time in North America to learn more about how companies in Canada and the United States have dealt with legislation and fickle hemp markets.
“Now there’s a lot of investment going into using the fibres, including building materials — there’s people making natural insulation and flooring,” Mr Crow said.
So, what will it take for Australia’s hemp industry here to keep pace with its overseas competitors?
The industrial hemp industry is governed by a complicated mix of state-based regulations — some blame the stigma of illegal cannabis for legislative caution.
Calls for regulatory changes for local hemp industry
Ms Lucas and Mr Crow believe governments need to ease up on regulation.
“I’m effectively being treated as though I’m dealing with some sort of narcotic when in actual fact it’s a crop like grain, or barley, or wheat,” Ms Lucas said.
Mr Crow said Australia could have access to a multi-billion-dollar market.
“I think we missed an opportunity, the rest of the world has the ability to utilise the whole of plant,” he said.
The hemp industry in Tasmania has expressed disappointment at the state government’s industrial hemp bill — which it tabled last November — saying it smothers potential expansion in the sector.
The state government has defended the bill, which it said will support future growth and includes horticultural use in its licensing.
Posted , updated