109: You Won’t Trip on These Blocks – Hemp vs. Concrete

Matt and Sean examine how hemp may become a renewable, eco-friendly building material.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Exploring How This Plant Could Replace Concrete”: https://youtu.be/mx7g79Jh66k?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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Hey, everybody on today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re going to be talking about hemp how it’s being used and now that it’s being used. We’re going to talk about some of the changes to the laws that allowed it to be reintroduced to american consumers. And will we start with it living with it and will we start living in it and of course our regular listeners will recognize the sound of my voice. This is Sean Farrell I am a writer and I’m the older brother. To Matt Ferrell who is of course the host and originator of undecided with Matt Ferrell which is why we’re here talking today Matt how are you doing I’m doing okay.
I’m good. How are you doing? We’re digging out from a foot of we’re digging out from a foot of snow but we’re good.
Here in the New York city area we did not have snow. We had some freezing rain and now we’ve got clear skies and it’s chilly, but it’s a lovely day and hoping that our listeners are experiencing the same and of course before we get started I just wanted to sound out a quick. Word of support not that I anticipate anybody is actually listening in Ukraine but a quick word of support to the people of Ukraine who are undergoing nightmare scenario there. Our thoughts are with you as are the thoughts of I’m sure the vast majority of our listeners I can’t imagine anybody. Looking at what’s going on in the news right now and thinking. Well this is good so we hope people are able to get through it safely and we’re hoping for saner days ahead. As for today’s episode we’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent.
Episode on his channel undecided with Matt Farrell this is the episode from February Twenty Second 2022 so in other words, this is from 2 2 2 2 2 I can only hope that Matt dropped it at 2 22 p m
I wish I had and it’s on a tuesday.
I won’t go back and double check that. But this it is on a Tuesday so here we are talking about exploring how this plant could replace concrete and what we’re talking about is the introduction of hemp as a building material. So. We’ll be talking about some of the details around ah hemp was gone for a long time and then it was brought back and now that it’s been brought back. It’s being reintroduced in ways that people probably never expected. And Matt I know that your research into this one of the things that you make clear in your video is that you you look back at the legality of of hemp as a material it of course is a plant that is very closely related to marijuana.
This is.
Yes, yes.
So it’s part of the Cannabis family I believe is the family that is a part of and it got lumped in with Cannabis and depending on where you go searching. You’ll find all sorts of conspiracy theories about why it got tied up with with Marijuana there is of course the very direct argument of.
It got lumped in with marijuana simply because it was related to marijuana and there was concern about it being available as a drug despite the fact that you would have to smoke or ingest a garbage truck’s worth of hemp to get anywhere near the effect that you can get from 1 ah, one hit of marijuana but there are theories that are bound around its being lumped in and I’m wondering Matt did you give any.
Did you look at any of those other theories and how much credence do you give those theories. Do you want to talk about some of those theories that you ran across.
I Don’t give much credence to the the conspiracy theories about why but hemp I mean technically it wasn’t illegal. Marijuana was what was illegal but Hemp was so tightly associated to it that it became burdensome for people to even bother.
Trying to use it right.
Farming it and trying to use it because it was just like there were all these like loopholes and legalities around it and issues and it was just like it’s not worth it just stay away from it. So It wasn’t that it was necessarily illegal. It was just it became cost Prohibitive. It was too much of a pain so people just walked away from it. So it’s.. It’s sad that that happened but it was It wasn’t some giant conspiracy to suppress hemp like there was nothing nefarious against it from what I found there were plenty of conspiracy theories but nothing that I I found that was like solid like oh yeah, that’s exactly what it was.
1 of the theories I know I’ve I’ve heard of I believe it might have been Dupont the Dupont family was involved in getting it declared illegal because they had developed if I remember correctly the argument went they had developed a synthetic fiber.
This is this is.
That they wanted to introduce into rope but Hemp rope was the leading rope manufacturing method so in order to introduce the synthetic material into the market. The duponts got it to be cleared. They got hemp put on the no-fly list and then.
Synthetic fibers were able to take hold as the leading the leading ingredient in rope seems like a long way to go to get your item to market I I you know and and we of course live in a world where we do see restrictions that don’t make sense on.
Yeah, yes.
Various products and various ingredients. Um I don’t know that I buy into the idea that ah the Dupont family actually was pulling those levers.
Yeah, no I’m I’m I’m more of a believer of was it. It’s ockam’s razor or was a handlin’s razor I think the other one which is like don’t attribute to malice but you can attribute to stupidity. It’s like it’s just there’s it’s like people pass laws that are just like okay. Good intentions but they don’t think about the side effects and the ramifications it has beyond what you were trying to solve and you create all these other problems. It’s like that’s kind of what I saw from the research that we put together for this video it was it was just a lot of stupidity and people you know marijuana is the Devil’s a drug and all this stuff getting caught up and in stupid insanity around it. Um, yet, we’re drinking ourselves to oblivion. But that’s that’s okay, ah.
Um, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it. It certainly got lumped in with and there was There was also a large aspect of what you just pointed out the entire argument of Marijuana being a no go and alcohol being perfectly. Okay, it cuts Across. Um, economic levels and it cuts across Race. There are all sorts of reasons why one was viewed as Forbidden and one was viewed as socially acceptable and all of that ended up with. Sadly something that is environmental. It’s a clearly sustainable good and it unfortunately by staying off the market for as long as it did has led to.
Yes, yes.
Ah, dependence on all of these other products that are not nearly as environmentally friendly or renewable as easily renewable as literally growing a fiber just straight up out of the ground. So I thought it was fascinating that in the comments on this video. Tons of people with direct growing experience weighed in and I couldn’t help but wonder I’d like to share some of the comments. But as we talk about them I’d be interested in your thoughts around. Will you revisit this and possibly reach out to some of these people about their experiences because it seems like you so.
This is.
Simply stood up and said hey I want to talk about this thing called hemp and suddenly all these first sources suddenly showed up at your door and we’re like yeah let me tell you about it. So I’d like to start off with this one from Tony Dea who shared this anecdote.
Yes, yeah.
I grew the first hemp fiber trials in California in 2021 we grew Twenty six foot tall plants and yielded Eight tons an acre in dry stock biomass the plant and its potential is insane. My partners on the project have converted a cotton gin to process the hemp the process to which. Excuse me the process to watch is adding hemp and lime to spray in insulation machines. It’s a complete game changer. So I thought that that was very interesting. The idea of one of the things you talk about in your video is that the hemp blocks that you talk about which are effectively I mean it’s.
Their Lego blocks. Um the hemp blocks you talk about how they do such a good job of absorbing and then releasing moisture in safe ways where other building materials. Don’t do that would you I imagine.
In a spray on insulation. You get some of that same benefit. Yeah.
Yes, it it breathes Essentially it’s it’s breathing and it adjusts with the moisture where concrete is very porous and absorbs moisture. But it ends up cracking and kind of crumbling away over time Hemp doesn’t do that hemp just stays what it is so it it can breathe and absorb and release that moisture. Back and forth again and again and again. So It can expand a little bit and contract without cracking. So It’s got a durability to it that doesn’t exist in concrete. It’s it’s fascinating and and on that comment I don’t know if you saw it but he also posted a link to a video he put out I don’t know if you watched it. It’s fascinating of him walking through what he called his hemp forest.
And it was just this densely packed just like like if imagine you’re like this tall walking through your your lawn. It’s like it was just these huge stalks of like what look like grass and just craziness and it’s this amazing material that can be harvested to do this stuff? yeah.
Um, right.
Right? You you also talked about it withstanding um like in earthquake situations. It doesn’t it doesn’t respond to shearing in quite the same way as as things like concrete and I imagine that that is.
Tied hand in hand to its breathability in its ability to take on the moisture release the moisture its ability to withstand those shearing forces speak to a resiliency that explains why you put in a new. Sidewalk in front of if you’re your home and then the first winter you see cracks develop and all of that nice brand new sidewalk. Looks like it’s been there for 20 years simply because moisture getting into that hairline fissure turns it into. 2 slabs instead of 1 as a result of not being able to withstand sharing.
Yeah I can’t remember the exact numbers off the top of my head but it was roughly 3 times better at withstanding sharing forces than concrete. So It’s not earthquake proof but it is really reliable in that kind of situation. It’s not as good as you know for the compressive force like for. Holding weight. But for that sharing Force. It’s really really superior.
There was also this from another grower Frederick Larson who wrote I grew the first hemp in modern times here in North in the north of Sweden back in 2003 I had to wait to sow it until a midsummer’s day because a court had to make a decision I thought that’s. Fascinating. He grows it and then is standing there waiting for for a court to decide whether or not it’s it’s legal and again going back to the idea of this being a drug it is being used as a source for cbd oil which is used to relieve anxiety and depression and it’s basically a homeopathic. Approach to it and I say that as somebody who has consumed cbd oil myself I do find benefits from it depending on the mood if I was looking at a severe anxiety attack cbd oil is not going to dent that. But if I’m looking at low level levels of. Of anxiety and depression There is absolutely a benefit but there is nothing that comes out of it that he’s even close to a high. It is the equivalent of drinking a non-alcoholic beer and trying to get drunk. You are not going to get there. You are going to have to you are gonna have to go and drink. A vat of non-alcoholic beer to get the right levels of alcohol into your system to feel any effects and it’s the same here with cbd so when we’re talking about courts making decisions about whether somebody can harvest their field of hemp. It really does speak of.
It’s ridiculous. Yes.
Attitudes from a very different era not being questioned and being allowed to just stand as accepted fact and we’re literally talking about decades worth of ignorance. Largely this. Legislation The rules that were put in place around hemp and then not questioned for decades means that people have to go to great lengths to re-educate the public about the safety of the material.
That’s the biggest. Yeah, that’s the biggest downside of this It’s it’s setback development of this material decades. So even though I highlighted in the video here’s these. 2 great companies that are doing these hemplock style things and here’s an example of a house being built with it and here’s all the benefits. It’s not perfect, but it solves a lot of different problems. It is still not ah, it’s not approved as a building material in every location so it’s like you. Have to check it with your local authorities because it still hasn’t gone through all the rigorous testing for getting certifications for making sure that it meets certain building codes and all that kind of stuff so your region may not have approved it as an official thing so that if ah, you know. You’re trying to get a building permit. They may say no, you can’t do that because they have no experience with it. It’s because it’s set back decades because of the stupidity from the you know the nineteenth you know twentieth century so it’s it’s going to take a while for things to kind of catch up and I’m hoping that they do and I remember going back 20 years into college. There were. Plenty of stores I remember like little record stores that right next door would be like a little hemp shop that would have hemp clothing hemp rugs and of course they would have drug paraphernalia in there as well. Not that I shop for that but they had plenty of other. Yeah.
Right. Right? I would hope you wouldn’t considering you were not it yet in a even a double digit age. But yeah, yeah.
And I know but but regardless it was I just have memories of those shops existing for a long time but it was such a niche crowd and it’s like.
Um, yeah.
Fast forward 2030 years and we’re still not that far off from that period and it seems a shame because there’s so much potential here.
Yeah, and it it. It was a very niche interest and it was very closely associated here in the Us with the hippie movement and it was and it was it was laughed at it was used as a punchline of like a man. How about some hemp. Yeah you hemp fibers and we’ll make some shoes and it was just like.
Drugs. Yes.
That’s not what we’re talking about. It’s the impact here is huge and and one of the things I wanted to talk about in detail around the building materials that you’ve introduced us to in your video.
Are questions around the accompanying materials that go with the hemp blocks and ways to either incorporate in an all in or a partial fashion and what I mean is you talked about hemp on its own does not. Have the ability to become a load-bearing Wall. So the homes that you talked about in the video were all being framed first. So you had wooden frames that were going up and there was in the the shot showing the.
Lego block style hemp bricks where they’ve got holes in the center and the framing actually goes through those holes helping to interconnect them and give them the rigidity of the need that they need and I’m wondering about the. 2 steps forward 1 step back of hemp very renewable can be grown very quickly. We can make building materials out of it. But you’re also going to need to use wood. So I’m wondering about options other than would did you see anything where people were talking about. Other renewable options like perhaps bamboo or is there another option that might come out of a style of either a 3 d printing technique potentially around The hemp itself is there any way to get the hemp itself to be strong enough to become a load-bearing material.
Not from anything that we found on the research it really came down to steel concrete columns or wood framing as the supporting material and while that sounds like oh that. That stinx. You can’t be a completely hemp. So Why bother? Well if you cut back 90% of the concrete you need to build a home that seems like a win. So. It’s like you’re not doing concrete walls and concrete Floors. You’re doing a handful of columns or steel columns or wood Columns um doesn’t really matter and as far as renewable Materials. What is a renewable material. So It’s like there’s not a downside to using Wood. It’s it’s car. It’s just like Hemp. You’re capturing the carbon you’re using it as a building material. It’s going to be locked away in the house just like the hemp will be the difference is it takes you know decades to grow a tree where it takes weeks to grow Hemp. So Obviously hemp has the.
Um, right.
Edge there. But as far as renewable Renewability. There’s no way there is no way that you can have a truly net zero carbon-free. You know, build and not have it impacting the environment way. There’s no way you can do it. It’s not Possible. So The idea that we have to be able to achieve a perfect greenhouse. That’s. You’re going to be chasing that forever because you’ll never do it. It’s all about how can you reduce the impact. How can you make it better and be smarter about your building material choices and how you build So for this, It’s like it’s an improvement. It doesn’t have to be Perfect. It’s just an improvement.
Right? Sounds like you’re saying don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So if you were looking at a mixing and matching style of building a home using this would you.
Exactly yes.
Would you argue that okay, a majority hemp with the underlying structure being concrete steel or wood is the way to go or is a mixing and matching approach of a majority of the building is built using what we’ll call traditional building techniques and then. Maybe 1 wall or 1 section being built out of hemp. Do you think that that would be somebody would look at that and say that’s the way I want to go or do you think that’s the sort of thing like why would you bother doing that.
I say you’re talking to the guy who’s Mr pragmatic I’m I’m ah in the mindset of do what’s right for your specific situation. So if that meant one wall is hemp then do one walls hemp. It’s like just do whatever is right for your specific buildout I don’t think there’s going to be a prescription that’s like It’s not worth it if you if you only can do it this much. It’s like it comes down to what is your end goal. What’s your goal for the project and what what kind of costs are you looking at and then just factor and wiggle around in that space to figure out what the race solution is so I have I have I would say one wall is better than none.
Right? right? And what did you find as far as limitations to the size is this the kind of building material where you’re saying okay ah a 3 or 4 bedroom house might be about as large as you can go with this or is it really just about the underlying structure. Whatever underlying structure. You can get to.
If if that’s right for you.
Give it the resilience it needs you can go as large as you need to.
There are limitations it depends on the project and the the material but like I was finding on some of these hemplock ah companies had statements of like you can build a wall up to you know, twelve feet high and you know this wide for a single wall or. You know they gave they gave dimensions and sizes for what that was the recommended max that you’d want to go. They were sizable so it’s like if you’re talking about like a single-family home. Yeah, you’re going to be just fine if you’re trying to build like foundation walls and stuff like that you could do that with hemp blocks. No problem but you’re not going to be building a. You know 10 story apartment building with hemp. That’s not going to happen so there are limitations but like like you brought up earlier hemp has so many uses when we’re doing the research for this. It was kind of like going down a rabbit hole of like oh well, you could use hemp for this and you can use hemp for that and hemp use over here. It’s insulation. It’s.
Um, right right.
Um, yeah.
Ah, it’s hemp crete. It’s you know ropes? It’s fibers. It’s rugs. It’s all these different materials that you can make out of it and we just zeroed in on just one use of it. So there’s so many different other videos and paths we could go down that it’s kind of insane the number of videos we could make of all the different uses of hemp.
Right? Yeah to return to? Frederick Larson’s comment I wanted to share some of his thoughts about growing hemp which included these 1 decisive advantage that was not mentioned here. It’s the way that the plant dominates. Anything growing under. It will die 2 years with hemp and it looks like the ground has been sprayed with weed killer. It’s an absolutely fantastic weed killer if the joke doesn’t hide the serious truth here I have no doubts about hemp being a vital part in the future of agricultural economies. Not least because it works great on rather bad farmland but also because it restores land without pesticides on top of that. Well, it’s not what this video is about and I agree completely about what is said it is a game changer the day we have adjusted the building routines to the finished products I think that that’s it’s a very interesting take from. Frederick and thank you for Sharinging those comments and a reminder to our other listeners if you have any comments about this if you have any first aid and experience jump into the comments you can reach out to us through the contact information in the podcast description or on Youtube you can just scroll scroll below the video and leave a comment there. There was also this from Tom Dalton and he touches on something that you just mentioned Matt Matt in addition to the newer products. Hemp provided great products in the past as you’ve pointed out would like to mention that using hemp for paper and a place of Cotton would drastically help the environmental impact regarding carbon capture. Think that that’s I keep coming back to that as the big exclamation mark from your video of growing this is the advantages for carbon capture just can’t be ignored.
This is.
Yep yeah, Carbon carbon is what is needed to grow trees plants. Everything. So It’s like the more we can take lean into that bamboo came up a but bunch in the comments and you brought it up too. It’s the same thing. It’s like hemp is kind of a weed bamboo is kind of a weed. It’s a grass and these things grow So Fast. You can like grow them almost as fast as you need to chop them down and it creates a really good cycle of growth and kind of like cut down and rebirth and just kind of going through the whole cycle over and over Again. It’s It’s really interesting.
I also wanted to share this comment from Aidan whosness who I think puts a nice cap on the entire discussion as an industry insider this is great to see hemp does indeed have a lot of potential the issue right now is setting up the infrastructure because it’s challenging if at all possible to convert. Equipment for other crops to be used for hemp except for very simple agricultural tools. We can have the vision of planting thousands of acres and building millions of homes and could even have the manpower and money for it. But we still require the infrastructure. Otherwise we’ll be importing this material to and that is almost worse. And the concrete supply chain. Thank you for taking the idea a bit more mainstream I was wondering in your research. Did you see any of the discussion about infrastructure development that that Aidan was sharing with us there.
Um, yes.
What kinds of steps. Do you see needing to be taken before this can become a viable from production to consumption chain that we would hope to see.
It’s every facet of the supply chain. It’s It’s no different than any other product. It’s you have to build up. Not just the the farmers that are creating this stuff but you have to address address the legality the logistics of like the logistics but the legality around like policies in the local regions to make sure that it’s legal and um. Above board and approved for how it’s getting Used. You have to have the proper equipment the proper you know companies that are doing the disbursement and the handling of all the materials. It’s It’s basically nonexistent it. It. It does sort of exist but it’s such at its infancy that it only really works in Pockets. It’s not nationwide by any stretch. So There’s a lot of building to do This is something that’s going to take decades to build out unless there’s serious investment. Um, that’s that’s the downside.

Right? This is not the same as the reintroduction to alcohol in the United States post prohibition because during that phase of prohibition organized crime kept the alcohol.
Yes, very much.
Supply chain running. So Once it was legalized. They just pulled the fake placards off the side of the ice cream truck and put the name of segrums back on it and then started delivering alcohol in the open this is different The Production to consumption was actually dismantled in a way that goes deeper so it’ll be.
Yeah, and and prohibition gave us Nascar no joke. no no joke ah they had they would soup up their cars and their trucks to be able to outrun.
You’re gonna have to go into that one. You’re gonna have to go into that one I don’t understand that reference.
Cops and then the they would have private races amongst themselves to see who had the fastest car but and it eventually morphed once prohibition stopped it kept going and they kept doing it and it morphed into what we know now as Nascar so it’s like.
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