Not just another brick in the wall

Klara Morasszeky with some hemp bricks.Top right: Raw harvested hemp.Centre right: Klaras hemp cement mix.Bottom right: The hemp cement is poured into a shell and takes about a day to set.

Ten years ago researcher Klara Morasszeky emerged from the Regional Forestry Agreement process angrier than shed ever been in her life.

We give timber companies an excuse to destroy forests for building materials when there is a viable alternative out there, Ms Morasszeky, a former consultant to Greening Australia, said.

And so she set about researching green, alternative building materials, travelling around the world and experimenting until she found what she believes to be the best source: hemp.

Although industrial hemp is used widely in Europe for building, it has never been commercially viable in Australia until now.

She has developed several ways of manufacturing effective hemp building materials, including bricks, wall panels and a hemp concrete, which she makes by mixing a lime-based binder and a little sand with the harvested hemp. They are all flexible, fire-retardant, pest proof and light.

Ms Morasszeky was in Nimbin on Monday to demonstrate the material, building a wall in the Hemp Embassy using hemp concrete, which hardens to a mineral about one day after being mixed with water.

The level of tetra-hydra-cannabinol (THC) in industrial hemp is so low as to be negligible.

The whole industry is recyclable, she said. If you decide you want to knock down a wall, you could fertilise your garden with the refuse or you could break it down and make it into a new wall.

Now that she has refined her process Ms Morasszeky faces two problems. Although she would like to source the raw material locally, she cannot because unlike Queensland and Western Australia, growing industrial hemp is illegal in NSW. She is also looking for funding, perhaps through a forward-thinking investor.

NSW Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald was unable to be contacted for comment but his office said the Minister would respond to The Echos questions next week.

Ms Morasszeky said she was frustrated by the red tape in NSW.

You can grow enough hemp for a house on one hectare in four months, she said. There is a waiting list for these houses if only we had sufficient fibre here. NSW produces virtually nothing and has been left behind as this reborn industry takes off elsewhere in Australia and overseas. There is also an industry waiting to take off in NSW to produce hemp blocks and panels for building and landscaping products.

Greens Member of the Legislative Council, Ian Cohen, said industrial hemp had a role to play in many areas.

There is a huge amount of potential with hemp. I understand its a strong building material, Mr Cohen said. Similarly to the way hemp makes very good paper there is also real worth with the possibility of hemp being grown as a building material crop with the potential to promote chemical-free growth.

Mr Cohen said NSW was missing the boat.

I think its something being held up by prejudice at a legislative or government level, when in actual fact the material is historically proven and only went out of vogue with the rise of petro-chemical materials 70 years ago. Until that time it was very widely used.

Hemp has the potential as a building material to help reduce greenhouse gases.

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