House of hemp may be the future
By JENNIE DELL
KEITH Bolton, of the Centre for Ecotechnology at Southern Cross University, could teach the three little pigs a lesson in their choice of house-building materials.
Forget straw, wood or stone ? he's building his out of hemp.
It will be a prototype, constructed locally, to demonstrate the extraordinary properties of this controversial plant.
"Hemp bricks are being developed in a joint venture with local company Morrowby Futures," project manager, Dr Bolton, said.
"They are as strong as ordinary bricks, but only half the weight and with twice the insulation properties. They incorporate hemp stems, which are 50 per cent carbon, so they even represent a carbon credit."
Dr Bolton, who is also managing director of a new North Coast-based company called Eco-Technology Australia, has a passion for the efficient use and re-use of waste, particularly water waste and effluent.
One of a few people in NSW licensed to grow a substantial hemp plantation, he has proved its value as a 'Mop Crop' ? a crop that will turn waste, including sewage, into resource water, as a system for irrigating agricultural and environmental crops.
The crop is growing at a secret location on the North Coast.
"Because of the current pro- hibition laws this extremely useful plant can only be grown under licence to NSW Health," he said.
"I'm hopeful that legislators will have the courage, wisdom and integrity to allow this plant, which humans have used for millennia, to be grown in a lucrative Australian hemp industry providing fibre, food and pharmaceuticals."
Dr Bolton has used the Mop Crop technology, created by his team at SCU, at the West Byron sewage treatment site.
There the effluent goes through a series of crops and ponds to emerge crystal clear; maybe not best for drinking but good enough for most other water usage.
The site has been quickly adopted as a wetlands habitat by many species of local wild- life.
Another of Dr Bolton's passions is the hemp plant, which he believes has potential as a material to be used in a huge number of applications.
What happens when a hemp Mop Crop has been harvested? What becomes of the cannabis?
"The 'waste' material is the leaf," Dr Bolton explained.
"However that contains most of the nutrients in the plant.
"We're mixing it with sludge and worms to create fertilisers to be re-used on crops, or onsold.
"Effluent will also be used in the manufacturing process of the hemp bricks. When we get the process right, we'll be aiming at every sewage treatment plant on the North Coast."
Dr Bolton said there would be non-load bearing walls made of hemp bricks by July next year, and by early 2006 loadbearing walls will have been constructed.
"I've got three people willing to pay for the materials and move into the house when it's complete," he said.
"I've got a feeling that demand will outstrip supply of hemp houses for quite a while!"