A Ukrainian company challenged the conventional methods of constructing and insulating homes by developing an eco-friendly, hemp-based material.
The basis for this quite environmentally safe material called “Hempire-mix” was provided by industrial hemp. Today, this material can be used to insulate houses or as a building material instead of concrete or brick.
The Hempire-mix is produced from ground hemp fibers, lime and a specifically developed adhesive material. The mix is made from natural materials only, and does not contain cement, sand or any toxic ingredients.
The material turned out to be not only eco-friendly but also energy-efficient. It is moisture-resistant, has high steam permeability, does not burn and does not corrode. Due to high concentration of lime, an alkaline, it is not susceptible to rodents and fungi.
“In the past, I heard a lot of jokes about this form of thermal insulation, but today, when gas prices went up, many people began to think about energy efficiency”, Hempire UA founder Serhii Kovalenkov stresses.
Thanks to its porous structure, this material serves as a sort of an air conditioner, preserving heat in winter and longer retaining coolness in summer. In addition, a wall built from the Hempire-mix naturally regulates air humidity inside the house.
This material can be used to insulate not just façade but also floor, foundation and roof. The structure becomes monolithic, and can be shaped up as you like.
“We have invented a special mixer that mixes the construction mix of lime and hemp several times faster than regular mixers”, Hempire UA founder Serhii Kovalenkov says.
The construction or insulation process is very fast. The scaffolding can be removed in just a half an hour after the material was laid.
From an agrarian to a technology-savvy country
According to Mr. Kovalenkov, Ukraine is the third-largest producer of industrial hemp in Europe. In 2017, this crop was cultivated on 4.5 thousand hectares of land. Ukraine has centuries-old hemp traditions. The Institute of Bast Cultures in Hlukhiv, Sumy Oblast has developed many varieties grown in Australia and Canada.
The fact that hemp can be used in construction was known 1.5 thousand years ago. A similar material was found in the supports of a bridge in France, built in the 6th century AD.
The Ukrainians have improved the technology and turned hemp into an innovative material. Hempire UA has developed a special type of organic, hemp-based plaster that helps create a favorable microclimate. The hemp-based mix can be used to erect houses of any shape. In Ukraine, there is a demand for dome-shaped houses.
“Our customers are people very knowledgeable of various eco-friendly technologies, adhering to healthy lifestyle and healthy nutrition. These are the people who have or want to build a suburban house, and are looking for natural solutions.
“One of them went for the hemp-based construction technology, because his son is allergic to synthetic materials”, Hempire UA founder says.
Houses built from this material can already be found in Kyiv, the Lviv and Kharkiv Oblasts. The company has construction plans for the Odesa and Zhytomyr Oblasts as well. “People are stopping making fun and being afraid. The ones who were skeptical about our technology just a few years ago are now offering us a partnership”, Serhii Kovalenkov continues.
Construction of hemp-based housing is more popular than insulation. Comparing the cost of various insulating materials, hemp insulation may seem much more expensive. However, bearing in mind that it doesn’t require any additional outlays, the final cost of an insulated wall would be about the same.
What’s important is that this product is not a raw material but a technological one with substantial added value, offering an opportunity to enter international markets.
Technology for export
The developers of “hemp” houses do not stop at insulating and building housing in Ukraine, but plan to enter the international market. “We started to work with this material in California, building a wheeled home there. It was probably the first one of its kind in the world built from that material”, Mr. Kovalenkov smiles.
They used local raw materials in the construction, and brought the adhesive material from Ukraine. Presently, the company is erecting a building on the premise of the Solar Institute in California. The Hempire founder says that the American market is favorable for this technology, because most houses there are based on the wooden frame technology.
“We did not bring hemp from Ukraine. It needs to be pressed well, because logistics may sometimes cost more than the material itself”, Mr. Kovalenkov says.
In France, he consulted the construction of a hemp building on Mont Blanc. The owners of that building want to make it a hostel for vegans.
“I have been in the construction business for eight years. During this time, we built and insulated many houses in various countries using hemp-based material. Australia was first, followed by France, Switzerland and the Netherlands”, Mr. Kovalenkov recalls.
Innovative insulation versus global warming
Hemp-based materials help fight global warming. When growing, this plant absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide, because it has the hydrocarbon base. In four months, a hectare of hemp may absorb 10 tons of CO2. In addition, lime solidifies during construction, inhibiting carbon dioxide.
“All fields around factories must be sown with hemp”, Mr. Kovalenkov believes.
Hempire UA became one of the first six companies in Ukraine to win the first phase of the Innovative Climatic Vouchers program from Greencubator as a project developing solutions for reduction of pollution.
It will receive 20 thousand euros from EBRD for certification of its technology and the entry onto the local and European markets. For the time being, this material can be used to build private homes only. Construction regulations do not permit the Hempire-mix to be used to erect office or insulate apartment buildings.
Today, Hempire UA is working on creating slabs that could be mounted on facades of apartment buildings. After that, the team is going to tackle construction of a manufacturing facility to produce this innovative material.
Volodymyr Rykhlitskyi for EP
The article originally was published on Evropeiska Pravda