By Dion Markgraaff
Cannabis composite-made products are starting to take over many industries due to the low impact cost (economically and environmentally) of growing the plant and the superior results of the finished goods. Scales, snow and skateboards, cars, plastic, and cases for business and musical instruments are only a fraction of the possibilities of using hemp. The same stalks and stems of the cannabis plant that hold up and help produce the resin in the flowers/nugs we all love are as valuable to our worldâ€™s many different industries as raw materials.
Eco-friendly hemp can replace most toxic and costly petrochemical products. Cannabis is being manufactured to make biodegradable plastic products: plant-based cellophane, recycled plastic mixed with hemp for injection-molded products, and resins made from the oil to name a few. The subject is very extensive and NUG Magazine will examine a few of the numerous uses in a two part series. In this issue, weâ€™ll look at the subject of cannabis composites made mostly of fibers, and in the April issue of NUG, our focus will be fiber and cellulose plastic.
When the late great Jack Herer would talk about the â€œthousandsâ€ of different uses of cannabis, he knew that the plantâ€™s superior industrial applications were at the heart of the planetâ€™s future economic ability to heal itself. Corporate espionage and manipulation turned society against natureâ€™s most useful plant. Society knew about the plantâ€™s industrial uses and, at the same time, the government was conspiring with the DuPont Corporation (who had just patented Nylon, a fiber made from petroleum) to outlaw cannabis fiber through the disguise of calling this same plant â€œmarihuanaâ€. Herer, the author behind the bible of the hemp movement The Emperor Wears No Clothes, would always quote an article from Popular Mechanics, February 1938. The story said cannabis was going to be Americaâ€™s â€œNew Billion-Dollar Cropâ€, which reported, â€œHemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody â€˜hurdsâ€™ remaining after the fiber has been removed contains more than 77% cellulose, and can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane.â€
Part I – Cannabis
What are cannabis composites? According to Wikipedia, â€œComposite materials, often shortened to composites, are engineered or naturally occurring materials made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties, which remain separate and distinct at the macroscopic or microscopic scale within the finished structure. The most visible applications is pavement in roadways in the form of either steel and aggregate reinforced Portland cement or asphalt concrete.â€ This is the same old and new idea of producing different items through the use of cannabis as raw material. Performance characteristics of the end product as well as environmental and economic benefits are the reason companies are using hemp fibers.
Hemp can be grown organically and is most often grown without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. Hemp is also a natural weed suppressor due to the fast growth of the canopy used throughout time to â€œcleanâ€ the fields. Hemp composites are recyclable and biodegradable unlike many competing materials. Since cannabis can be grown almost anywhere, this valuable crop can be produced close to factories, cutting the total costs even more. This ideal environmental solution continues to remain impossible in America because of the prohibition that keeps farmers from growing hemp, holding back the hemp tidal wave from washing up around the planet.
A major pioneer that utilizes the cannabis plant in composites is Stemergy, formally known as Hempline, which was founded in 1994. Theyâ€™re a major leader in the hemp fiber industry in North America. From Canada, they supply hemp fibers to an ever-growing number of companies who are finding more applications for different products every day. The companyâ€™s website states that cannabis is superior because hemp is cost effective; it has high tensile strength and stiffness; it is ideally suited for needle punched nonwoven products; itâ€™s an effective replacement for glass fiber; it reduces molding time; it helps with weight reduction in the finished part or product; itâ€™s easy to process and recycle; it can be customized to meet a variety of specifications and different manufacturing systems; it has consistent quality; and, itâ€™s availability of supply is possible.
The Stemergy website says, â€œThe most rapidly expanding application for hemp fiber is as reinforcement in composites. The blending materials range from thermoplastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene to thermoset fiber such as polyester. The common application is to blend hemp fiber with polypropylene in a nonwoven (felt) mat that is then compression molded to form a three dimensional part. Hemp fiber is also being used to produce mineral based composites in much of the same way polypropylene or glass fiber is used to reinforce cement or plaster. The rising price of energy is making these other reinforcing fibers more expensive, and the excellent properties and cost of hemp fiber are opening up new applications every day.â€
There are a wide range of thermoset resins being developed that are compatible with hemp fiber for composite products. Some of these are plant based, so a 100% bio-composite is technically feasible and soon to be in full commercial production using resins based from soy canola or corn. Today, the industries using composite hemp include cars, furniture, building materials, scales, cases (travel, business and music styles), and speakers, as well as other consumer products including grinders.
The largest use for hemp fiber produced in North America is for automotive composite products. According to plastemart.com, â€œbio-composites contribute to the automotive manufacturerâ€™s final goal by delivering a 30% weight reduction, and a cost reduction of 20%.â€ Many people do not know that most car companies today around the world have been using hemp fiber-based interior panels for a few years. Toyota, Audi, Porsche, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Cadillac, Saturn, Jeep, Mercedes, BMW, Saab, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and Volvo are some of the companies that realized the advantages of using NUG Magazineâ€™s favorite plant. Today, there are literally millions of cars on the road that have cannabis in them.
A company out of Canada, Motive Industries, announced last September that this year they will unveil Canadaâ€™s first automobile where the body is entirely made of bio-composite hemp. This electric â€œcannabis carâ€ is made from hemp mats, which have better impact resistance than other types of composites like fiberglass; plus, theyâ€™re lighter and cheaper, which is critical for the businessâ€™s bottom line of making money.
In 1941, Henry Ford built an experimental car out of hemp and other crops that were lighter and more durable than the cars of that time. On YouTube, you can watch a video the company made where a guy slugs the car with a sledgehammer, leaving no dents on the panels.
Another great example of using cannabis fibers in composites is happening in the case industry. Business style, computer holding cases as well as music cases are coming from the same factory as the one that is producing parts for BMW cars in Germany. These cases enjoy the lightweight durability of the hemp car parts. Here at NUG Magazine, weâ€™re so excited about the many uses of cannabis that we will be expanding our product line of NUG Magazine Hemp T-shirts to now include these cannabis cases, starting with brief cases, guitar and violin cases that you can soon buy through our website www.nugmag.com.
The mind boggles at the thought of thousands of different products that will be made from cannabis when one considers the possibilities of composites. These thoughts will only intensify when we add hemp plastic to the mind-blowing possibility equation in part II of â€œToday – cannabis composites are cars, cases, and more (like plastic) – made all around the worldâ€. Weâ€™re at the dawn of a new era with the cannabis plant at the core of this global revolution.