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Discover the UK company “growing the buildings of the future” with hemp

Home » Discover the UK company “growing the buildings of the future” with hemp

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Construction company Hemspan discusses its plans to revolutionise the construction industry by using hemp to create a carbon-neutral construction process and build net-zero homes.

UK-based Hemspan is utilising hemp in place of traditional material to grow and build the homes of the future. At the same time, is taking a unique approach to its crowdfunding by giving people a chance to give back and help the Earth through carbon offsetting with hemp. 

A rise in interest in hemp as an alternative to traditional materials in a number of different sectors has seen a huge growth in the global industrial hemp market. It is now projected to reach $310m (~£228.24m) by the end of 2027.

Founder and CEO, Matt Belcher, has spent the last three years working in hemp-related areas, from modular construction components to nutraceuticals. Belcher is setting out to incorporate hemp in all parts of Hemspan’s build in order to maximise the reduction of carbon emissions during the construction phase.

“The journey led me to me to meet Steve Barron who is a co-founder of Hemspan. Steve, founded Margent Farm and started growing hemp. He built his “Flat House” on the farm, which has been widely recognised as a really inspirational vision and an expression of how hemp should be used so many different things in the future. 

Read more: How a lack of coherent price indexing for hemp affect the commodity’s prices? 

“I was inspired to take that concept and commercialise it in a way that would have the impact that he wanted to make by his experimental project. That’s the motivation – the idea that you can build a house with a timber frame, or whether it’s panelised, and use hempcrete and hemp fibre insulation as your core strategy. Then, to be able to clad it in hemp is the absolute best-case scenario. That is what Hemspan is setting out to do.

“Today we are able to deliver buildings that are net-zero in the construction phase our houses will be carbon negative. Over time, we will add further components to what is already a good system, and then we can optimise by collaborating, innovating and scaling up for mass production.”

Belcher added: “We are an early-stage company and we are fundraising, but we have live projects that we are designing for now, including a 4000 square foot luxury home in Suffolk.

“We have taken great care to assemble a team of core board members and industrial partners – we have got the right the right board structure and we have got the right investment partnerships in place to take this forward and scale it up.”

Working with British farmers

To deliver its revolutionary approach to construction, Hemspan is working with British farmers and encouraging them to adopt hemp as part of their farming strategy in cropping rotations due to its beneficial impact on the soil. Initially, Hemspan will be sourcing its hemp material for the installation and pre components from Europe, as, currently, there is not the right scale of activity in the UK.

“If farmed regeneratively you can you can lock up some serious carbon – not only in the buildings that we build, but in the soil itself,” said Belcher.

“We were getting a lot of positive interaction with farmers who will like to grow it for us in years to come and are now taking a keen interest in Hemspan. 

“I think that with careful seed selection and strategic planting on farms, where there is no road or nearby school, for example, then I think it should be a secure crop with a high yield. Particularly, if it can be farmed for seed oil and fibre at the same time – which is the holy grail. Not for CBD, but for edibles, because if you harvest for CBD then it won’t be mature enough to be useful fibre.

Read more: What makes hemp such a sustainable crop?

“The average house is built on the estates that are going up all over the country – which is entirely necessary because there’s a shortage of housing and price of property is too high – that’s built by a traditional developer has a carbon footprint of 50 tonnes approximately. Every year through heat loss is approximately a further five tonnes of carbon footprint, which is unnecessary. 

“Our houses will be zero carbon in the construction phase and in performance of after it’s built. That’s the impact that we can have. I think it’s great that the whole industry is focused on net-zero, and looking to technology to reduce heat loss and introduce renewable technologies so that you know homes can be close to zero, performance. However, it doesn’t deal with the construction phase. And we are addressing both in parallel.”

The benefits of hemp in construction

With a rise in the interest of biomaterials in the construction industry hemp could be a major player as a go-to choice. A 2020 study of the thermal properties of hemp demonstrated that polyurethane-hemp fibre composite presented “good insulating properties compared to the traditional insulation material”.

It also highlights further benefits of hemp composites including such as being economical due to reducing the cost of the polyurethane plates, as well as having an ecological advantage as the fibres used are renewable materials- meaning they will consume less grey energy.

A further 2020 analysis of studies on hemp-lime composite as an insulation material highlights how the material can be a “perfect alternative for other commonly used construction materials”.

Belcher commented: “Hemp performs brilliantly as insulation in lots of different ways. There is hempcrete, which is an insulating material, but it has other benefits too – it doesn’t just keep the heat in. It is excellent at regulating the temperature within a building, which means that, in the summer you will be cooler than you would be with conventional construction. It has everything from humidity control to air quality, these are all things that hempcrete and fibre insulation can deliver. 

Read more: Italy plans hemp production increases – could the UK be next?

“Thermally it is pretty spectacular and comparable to other insulations. The key difference with natural insulation is that it is fire rated. 

“There are lots of mineral wall products out there that have a very good fire rating, but they do eventually wear. When they burn they have a high toxicity. Natural insulation will burn at a lower temperature. When hemp burns, it is non-toxic. We innovate and find ways to improve the fire performance of that insulation without negatively affecting the toxicity in combustion.”

Working with partners, Hemspan will be doing research and development into bio-based cladding to deliver a weatherboarding system for its houses within the next two years.

“There is a slight premium on using hemp as a material at the moment. Our system will be more expensive to deliver at the scale we are. But we know that if we can get our system up to a larger scale and get hemp cultivation going in the UK, then it may be that the price can come back.

“The other factor is obviously regulation and government targets for net-zero. Eventually, those pressures will create a sort of meeting in the middle where our cost of production will come into line. The benefits of having a large majority of houses made out of a carbon-neutral or negative material is priceless.”

Crowdfunding through carbon offsetting

Hemp is known as one of the best for carbons sequestration due to its rapid growth, making it even more efficient than growing trees. The European Industrial hemp Association report shows that one hectare of industrial hemp can absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare, compared to the average of seven tonnes per hectare per year absorbed by forests that are 200-years-old.

Hemspan is taking a unique approach to its crowdfunding by creating an ambassador framework for its decarbonisation programme to encourage more people to offset carbon emissions through the planting of hemp. 

The framework, called Canvas Club, is a platform where members will get instant value from their subscription by earning a commission as a carbon offset. They will also get subscriptions on others who they introduce to the club.

Read more: How the carbon capture of hemp can help reduce emissions

“We wanted to have a way that anyone who is passionate about the environment, and who recognises the value of hemp, can participate in what we’re doing for a very small amount – but get back value greater than if they just bought carbon offset from any other platform.

“Fundamentally if you bought a subscription for five pounds, you would be offsetting a tonne a year approximately. If you introduce other people, you will get a commission on their subscriptions and you will be offsetting five tonnes. 

“When those five people introduce another five people, you get a bit more from that, and then suddenly you’re offsetting 10 to 20 tonnes of carbon. We will also add more benefits, discounts and news content that’s exclusive to the membership, and not necessarily available elsewhere.”

The funding will go towards Hemspan’s charity partner, Practical Action, for the development of a Renewable Energy for Agriculture project in Malawi and supporting Hemspan’s research and development of bio-based cladding materials.

Hemspan is currently raising equity on the ESI Venture Capital platform, with a minimum investment of £25k.

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