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Hemp makes a comeback in the construction industry Thu, January 26, 2023 at 7:07 PM EST

Elad Kaspin co-founded Cânhamor after years of travelling

Weary of his life as a computer engineer, in 2010 Elad Kaspin packed his bags and travelled the world.

Mr Kaspin wanted a break from Israel, describing life in the country as complicated. "I knew I didn't want to live there, in spite of having a good life with a good salary," he says.

After two years of travelling, he arrived in Colos, a village in southern Portugal, between the towns of Odemira and Ourique. He liked it so much he decided to stay.

He was not the only one. In recent years the region has seen a wave of migrants, attracted by the dramatic, vast and empty plains, a laidback way of life, good weather, and cheap property.

But that popularity was not generating good, stable jobs.

So, with the help of childhood friend Palestinian Omer ben Zvi, Mr Kaspin decided to start a company, Cânhamor.

Their idea was to take advantage of Portugal's relaxation of laws governing the cultivation of hemp, part of the cannabis family of plants.

With official permits, the cultivation of cannabis and hemp has been permitted since 2018.

The laws have been refined since then, but with authorisation from the General Directorate of Food and Veterinary Affairs, farmers can grow hemp as long as there is oversight from regulators.

Hemp has been prized for centuries for its tough fibres

It marks a revival for hemp in Portugal. It was an essential raw material for the nation's maritime expansion, which began in the 15th Century, when it was used to make cords, ropes and sails.

Hemp fibre was prized for its durability, a quality which has caught the attention of today's construction industry.

Not only is it tough, but hemp also has the potential to make big savings in carbon dioxide emissions.

The plant traps carbon dioxide when cultivated and can, when made into blocks, replace concrete, which is a carbon-intensive product.

According to a European Commission report, the carbon sequestering properties of hemp are remarkable.

In just five months one hectare (2.5 acres) of hemp can trap between 9 and 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Mr Kaspin wanted to exploit those properties by setting up his own business making hemp construction blocks.

With an initial investment of €1m (£880,000; $1m), Cânhamor was formed at the beginning of 2021, and production began a few months later.

The blocks are made of hemp fibres, limestone powder and water

The blocks are made of so-called hempcrete, a mix of hemp plant parts, water and limestone powder.

According to Mr Kaspin, the blocks have several advantages over traditional building materials.

As well as being much less carbon intensive to make, he says hemp blocks are better at insulating from heat and sound than brick and concrete.

He also says that they are very resistant to fire.

In 2019 researchers in Australia conducted tests on hemp walls, including simulating a bush fire, and found the material very resistant to fire damage.

However, hemp blocks have to compete with concrete which is cheaper, stronger and well known to builders.

The cost of hemp blocks also reflects the cost of growing hemp which includes expensive inputs like fertiliser



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