Casia Lanier   |   April 19, 2022

3D Printed Hemp Buildings Could Transform the Construction Industry and Solve a Housing Crisis

Harnessing the power of hempcrete to produce low-cost, green buildings may save the global economy and the environment.
Casia is a freelance writer based in NYC and Madrid. She is passionate about promoting emerging scientific and technological advancements in cannabis for a healthier future.

Hemp has been used as a primary construction material as far back as the 28th century BCE. And now, after nearly a century of prohibition, the plant has reemerged as a superhero building block for sustainable and affordable infrastructural development.

As the cannabis industry works to break down legal stonewalls, companies dedicated to more economical and environmentally friendly building solutions are emerging. Among them are hemp construction companies that resolve to replace cement and wood structures with hemp-based cement mixture such as inks or hempcrete (also known as hemp stone). What’s more is that these companies are integrating 3D technology into their models for faster, easier, cheaper construction.

The timing couldn’t be better. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic shock, environmental disasters, and the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian disrupting supply, contractors are experiencing drastic material shortages and price increases as high as 49% in some subsectors.

WHO ARE THE NEW PLAYERS?

Black Buffalo 3D Corp is one of a small handful of hemp-based construction companies harnessing the power of 3D printing to produce hempcrete in the form of layer-able material, similar to smaller 3D printers, but on a much larger scale. The New York-based company teamed up with two other sustainable hemp-based building solution providers, Alquist and Revive Hemp Industries.

These three companies forge an interdependent consortium. Each company serves a specific purpose in building out hemp-based infrastructure across the U.S. Revive Hemp Industries provides quality, U.S. grown hemp and studies the most sustainable and efficient growth and plant and material production methods. Black Buffalo 3D manufactures the industry-scale 3D printers and produces the ink used for building, and Alquist implements proof of concept of the technology by building affordable homes for businesses and housing-insecure communities.

The undertaking was enabled by rePlant Hemp’s Impact Fund, an initiative launched by Black Buffalo’s CEO/CEO, Michael Woods, and the National Hemp Association to promote divestment in fossil fuels and transition to an environmentally sustainable and technology-driven, green economy. While the U.S. is currently reliant heavily on raw industrial hemp imports from countries like Canada and China, the $500 million fund aims to promote the growth of hemp production in the U.S. for both the domestic and global markets.

CREATING GREEN JOBS AND BUILDING ECONOMY

The national housing shortage continues to deepen as construction efforts move away from small, entry-level homes, and supply chain disruptions drive home prices too high for lower and middle-income families to afford.

Additionally, the chronic labor shortage in the construction industry has pushed the adoption of technology-driven solutions into building processes. And as investment opportunities grow, the need for hemp farmers, production managers, engineers, and 3D machine operators to build, repair, and effectively implement these technologies will create new, greener jobs.

The efficiency of 3D printing outpaces traditional building times and methods. The amount of time to construct a 1,600-square-foot building using the 3D hemp ink model takes around 30 hours compared to the 2-4 months using conventional methods and materials. And with only a fraction of the physical labor and onsite workforce.

Currently, hempcrete is estimated to be around 1.5x more expensive than traditional concrete. However, with hempcrete weighing only an eighth of traditional concrete, cost savings can be realized on packaging, fuel usage, transport logistics, and labor. Moreover, as production increases in the U.S., additional import taxes and fees, along with product storage requirements, will be reduced. And with imports of industrial hemp reaching $700 million each year, those savings opportunities are significant.

AN ENVIRONMENTALLY ADVANTAGEOUS SOLUTION

According to the International Energy Agency’s 2019 industry status report, the building and construction sector make up nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions and energy use, with a notable portion coming from cement production.

This company collaboration aims to create an environmentally beneficial solution that serves as an easy and cost-effective alternative to a fossil fuel-invested economy. This solution’s aim to not only be carbon zero, but carbon negative is highly achievable. This is because very little waste is produced, and as hempcrete cures over time, it sequesters CO2, enabling the buildings to offset the CO2 produced during the manufacturing and construction processes and additional emissions produced by non-green industrial activities.

Black Buffalo’s hemp-based building material is an efficient insulator and is both waterproof and fireproof, making it an ideal solution for communities impacted by the effects of climate change, such as California and Australia, where wildfires are a yearly occurrence, and Texas, where the rate of flash flooding is high. Extreme weather events like these are only expected to intensify, and solutions like this can ensure climate change resilience and savings on both building and natural disaster insurance costs.

The collaborative plan provides a cost-effective incentive for investors and U.S. industry to move towards a greener global economy while also reducing the government burden to address the housing shortage through legislation and housing assistance spending, as well as making the U.S. an attractive import market for countries with similar goals.

 

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