Science/Environment

The hemp house is almost here.

A Perth-based company has found a new way of processing the versatile plant and has developed building panels to create affordable, carbon negative housing.

Mirreco chief executive Richard Evans said the company plans to build a hemp micro-home to show the benefits of using hemp in housing (Pictured – a Culburra hemp House).

The prototype home is set for completion in by the end of the year, and Mr Evans hopes to expand nationally by April next year.

The company has developed a machine that cuts down the processing time of hemp from four to five weeks to just one hour. The machine extracts oils from the plants which can be used for sustainable plastics, fabrics and other packaging, as well as CBD oil for medicinal purposes, Mr Evans said.

His background in building and construction made him think about uses for the hemp biomass – the left over plant product after the oil is extracted.

“Climate change is on the lips of everyone these days and there is a shift towards low carbon infrastructure,” Mr Evans said.

He spent the best part of a decade developing both the machine and structural panels made of hemp biomass to use for housing and commercial buildings.

Mirreco managing director Chris Fairman said the benefits of using hemp as a building product included the fact that it does not require a lot of water, its carbon reducing qualities and its fast growth rate.

“It takes three months from seed to harvest so you can get three crops per year,” Mr Fairman said.

The prototype is due for completion later this year. Photo: Mirreco/Arcforms

The prototype is due for completion later this year. Photo: Mirreco/Arcforms

He said it was also fire retardant, pest and termite resistant and had significant noise suppressing qualities.

Mr Evans said the hemp panels for housing reduced the carbon footprint of a house – in effect making it carbon negative.

“We’re looking at the ability to sequester carbon and quite literally clean the air and contribute to the reduction of global warming,” he said.

The company, along with collaborators, is also working on other technologies to create sustainable housing, including glass that deflects UV light to create energy for the house to run on.

University of Melbourne professor in architecture, building and planning Robert Crawford said the development of new sustainable building materials was positive.

“A material like hemp is a renewable material and we can keep going it indefinitely into the future,” Dr Crawford said.

He said for a material to be considered completely sustainable, the entire manufacturing process needed to be taken into account.

“The material itself might be a positive thing compared with alternatives, but then there’s the harvesting, the transportation, the processing and manufacturing stages that have impacts as well,” he said.

Mr Evans said though Mirreco’s prototype machine needed to run on either electricity or diesel, the company planned to develop the technology to use biofuel from the hemp plant to run the machines in future. He said the initial prototype house would use timber frames, but the eventual plan was to 3D print houses using hemp biomass.

He said eventually the company would to be able to build a standard house within a day – and sees great potential in using the technology to build affordable, social housing once they scale up their production.

“I’m not saying someone could move in the day after we build it, but we can create the flooring, walling, partitioning and roofing systems for your typical house in less than 24 hours,” he said.

This story first appeared on domain.com.au

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