News-Building materials going to pot

The Australian

CANNABIS could soon be going up in buildings rather than going up in smoke.

The hemp plant is one of six identified by Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientists in Queensland as a source of natural resin to reduce the building industry’s reliance on resins produced from fossil fuels.

DPI project officer Dr Andries Potgieter said generating resins from renewable sources such as plant oils could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and result in a smaller carbon footprint.

Currently most resins and adhesives used in aerospace structures and in structural building materials are ultimately derived from crude oil.

Cannabis Sativa L., also known as marijuana or hemp, was very widely used in the past.

James Cook’s Endeavour and ships of its era had all their sails and ropes made of hemp.

Industrial varieties, which have a negligible content of the active ingredient tetra hydra cannabinol (THC), are grown under licence in Queensland.

“The first step in the project was identifying which of the plant oil species are best suited to the Australian environment,” Dr Potgieter said.

“Initially, we tested 13 plants for their suitability to Australian agronomic conditions and unsaturated oil content.

“We were able to narrow the selection down to eight species straight away due to the classification of some as weeds and their limited exposure to the Australian broad-acre cropping environment.

“We now have a final list of six plant species that show high potential for the extraction of oil for resin, and are currently not part of an existing oil production and refinery system.”

Research will continue into the suitability of hemp; Calendula officinalis (pot marigold), Camelina sativa (false flax); Pongamia pinnata (pongam tree); Lesquerella fendleri (desert mustard); and Crambe abyssinica (abyssinan mustard).

The joint project between DPI, the University of Southern Queensland and Loc Composites could to lead to the production of fibre composites which can be used in sustainable high technology building products used in, for example, the production of railway sleepers and small bridges, Dr Potgieter said.

The main challenge is to make it financially viable for farmers to grow crops for this purpose.


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