With all this talk about the new global medicinal cannabis market, it’s easy to overlook its versatile sister industry – the industrial hemp market. Hemp markets may be slow to open for some countries, but one Croatian company is showing just how useful hemp is, and just how many things it can do.
In Croatia, cannabis is decriminalized for personal use – with no specific amount set for what ‘personal use’ accounts for. It’s also legal for medicinal use with amendments made to its Law on Combating Drug Abuse in 2015 to make the use of it legal under the correct medical circumstances, and 2019 when cultivating and producing it was legalized.
This is a commonality of today. Countries changing their legislation to enter into the global medicinal cannabis market. Many going from legislative standpoints of complete illegality to becoming hubs for medical cannabis production. In order to supply these markets, hemp is being grown in greater quantities than it has for many decades, harking back to a day when hemp was so universal, so needed on so many fronts, that a place like the US had grow laws for farmers which required them to grow hemp, and it could be used to pay taxes and as legal tender – money.
And then it became illegalized everywhere, with great pressure put on countries, like Nepal, that took their time in changing laws. Why this happened is still a debate, but it’s hard to get around that there was a lot of competition on the industrial front by companies that didn’t want to compete with the plant. This is becoming better understood in a round about way as more companies seek to use hemp for different industrial purposes, which had been closed off for many years.
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The push to legalize today
Croatia might well be on its way to legalization thanks to Mirela Holy of the Social Democratic party, and her initiation of a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis using a hybrid model of government and private companies (a combination of the models set up by Paraguay and Canada). “‘We invite all those interested to participate in the public debate,’ reads the bill and comments. It envisages the full legalization and liberalization of hemp, which means that it fully envisages harnessing all the potential of cannabis for economic, recreational and medical purposes,” said Holy of the bill in February of this year to Mojmira Pastorčić/RTL Direkt.
While the old, worn-down, never-made-sense-anyway logic of illegalizing cannabis for the good of society gets more laughable every time a new place legalizes in any capacity, there still isn’t nearly as much attention on hemp as one would expect. In the past it was used by the army for ship sales, clothing, and other equipment. It can be used as a fuel source, paper, and a variety of other functions. In fact, there are so many things it can be used for, that new applications and inventions are coming out every day.
You can build a boat out of hemp?
If you were ever wondering if it’s possible to build a boat out of hemp, the answer, quite apparently is, yes! In June of 2020, it was reported that Croatian ship producing company Marservis, plans on using hemp fibers along with resin to build the hull of a boat.
Marservis is owned by Luciano Beg who had the idea to use hemp materials for the building of the boat. In conjunction with the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture of Zagreb, Beg and his company made a design for a 15 meters catamaran which was submit to an EU investment fund through a contest.
The contest included passing three stages, which Marservis did, with the only remaining stage including signing contracts and transferring funds. Beg has a three-year plan for the building of the boat, and at completion it should have the capacity to hold about 150 people. Oh yeah, and it’ll be solar-powered with solar panels mounted on the top, just in case creating it out of hemp wasn’t green enough for you. Marservis is known for its innovation, despite being a very small company of only about 15 people.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that hemp has been used as a building material. Back in the early 2000’s, a few different European companies developed systems to integrate hemp into ship and house building. Hemp is a great material because its thermally insulating (good at keeping steady temperatures inside even with fluctuation outside), very strong (the fibers don’t break apart easily), and yet very lightweight. These factors mean it can reduce energy costs, and help maintain cool in the summer, and heat in the winter, more easily and cost-effectively. While Marservis is helping to build the first one, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering wants a future where these building methods lead in the world of bioconstruction.
This, in the end, is just one of many applications. As a strong material, nearly anything made of wood or plastic can be replicated with hemp indicating a much wider use of biodegradable materials, and less reliance on plastics (and therefore oil) and wood (less deforestation). Hemp is light, but it can be compressed to form hard materials like brick, which are stronger than their original counterparts.
Houses have actually been constructed already using hemp material. In fact, back in 2015 there were reports on this phenomenon, stating how these ‘hempcrete’ houses were capable of pulling CO2 from the air, as well as other pollutants. A look at the pictures of the houses and you won’t be able to see any discernable difference between these houses and any other nicely built houses. It has been reported that the houses are indeed good at maintaining stable temperatures through the high thermal mass of the hemp. This is not to say that only natural materials were used. The construction of the houses did require petroleum-based products in the ceiling and foundation. But this is small potatoes, and the majority really is very eco-friendly. Definitely a huge step forward environmentally.
When it comes to building, ‘hempcrete’ has become the keyword of the moment. What is it exactly? Hempcrete is made of hemp, other natural materials, and lime, which is necessary for a shorter setting time. Together, lime and hemp create a strong and light natural concrete. Not only does its high thermal mass help store absorbed energy, but it also has vapor permeability (how much water vapor can get through) properties that aid in meeting thermal regulations for building, something that in standard building practices often requires using several layers of different materials to achieve. It can be used for both new buildings and renovations, but does come with an important stipulation: it’s not load-bearing, requiring metal, concrete, or wood in order for it to support weight.
Beg and his company Marservis certainly seem to have their collective eye on the future. Croatia might not currently get the most attention in the world of industrial hemp, but this new innovation is likely to put them on the map in a much bigger way. This boat will be one of the first big modern day projects for green, solar-powered ship-building, and likely a model for green building of all kinds, particularly hemp, in the future.
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