UNL engineers use hemp to make a carbon-negative alternative to cement construction blocks

‘Just as strong as a concrete masonry unit that you could buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot’

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to carbon emissions, but cement plays a significant role in climate change.

About 8% of carbon emissions are attributable to cement. Comparatively, airplanes contribute about 3%.

Taking a crack at that problem, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction say they’ve developed an environmentally friendly alternative to cement concrete blocks. The researchers are based at UNL’s Scott Campus in Omaha.

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UNL’s Marc Maguire, who works on sustainable alternatives in structural engineering, said one of the hemp masonry blocks negates the carbon impact of four comparable cement blocks.

“It meets all the standard specifications for a lightweight concrete masonry unit with respect to strength and weight,” Maguire said, but is lighter.

While he says most everyday people aren’t familiar with the use of hemp in construction, if you have heard of it, you’re likely thinking of “hempcrete.”

“We are not hempcrete,” Maguire said. “We are a structural hemp composite. It is just as strong as a concrete masonry unit that you could buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Maguire said hempcrete is “more of an insulating material in its current iteration.”

He said it removes carbon from the air, rather than adds it, “mostly because of the hemp growing process and the amount of … carbon that it gobbles up over that growing period,” but that it also removes carbon over the life of the product because of the hemp and other ingredients.

“I do think it could change the industry,” he said. “It’s just another option for a more sustainable option for masonry … I don’t think it’s going to usurp concrete.”

UNL and its partners are in the process of bringing the product to market.

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