Earth Merchant, a small business based in Washington state, just snagged a $100,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help fund the development of sustainable bricks made from industrial hemp. The company's new OlogyBricks are intended to replace traditional construction bricks made from concrete or other traditional materials.
The EPA recently awarded grants to Earth Merchant and 23 other companies under its small business innovation research program. This isn’t the first grant the feds have given to fund industrial hemp research, but it is the largest to date. In 2019, the EPA awarded around $12,000 to researchers studying the use of hemp as a renewable fiber for construction.
The EPA's official grant notice describes the OlogyBricks as “durable, lightweight, carbon-negative construction blocks made from industrial hemp, lime, and hemp-derivatives for superior thermal resistance and mechanical properties that will improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality in single-family homes and other architectural applications.”
These hempcrete bricks will be fully produced in the US, using industrial hemp legally grown under the auspices of the 2018 Farm Bill. The EPA explains that hemp can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers and requires less water than crops like cotton or corn. The specific formulation of these hemp bricks can also help reduce water absorption and structural swelling, compared to traditional bricks.
“OlogyBrick construction can improve health outcomes for residents,” the notice explains. “Due to the properties of the lime, hempcrete is antifungal and antimicrobial reducing the risks of airborne bacteria while also being vapor permeable facilitating air exchange and providing a breathable structure for improved indoor air quality without compromising thermal resistance.”
The idea of hemp-based bricks has cropped up before, but as part of a far more conservative agenda. Back in 2019, Trump's buddy Steve Bannon tried to crowdfund a border wall made entirely out of hemp. The crowdfunding attempt failed, but it did create some positive press about the innovative uses of hempcrete as a substitute for concrete and steel.
Innovators are also using hemp for a wide variety of other eco-friendly projects, including renewable bioplastics. So far, these hemp-based plastics have been used to create sustainable weed packaging, filaments for 3D printers, and even hemp toothbrushes. Italian farmers have also found a way to use hemp plants to naturally clean contaminated soil by pulling heavy metals and other toxins out of the ground.