There are three basic types of fibers: natural, artificial and synthetic. Natural fibers are extracted directly from plants and animals, being cotton and wool the main natural fibers in use, nowadays.

In contrast to natural fibers, synthetic fibers like polyester, polypropylene, and nylon are made from fossil fuels and., dominate the world’s fiber market today. Polyester is made mostly from ethylene derived from coal.

Manmade cellulose is an intermediate category sometimes considered artificial (that is manmade using natural prime materials) and other times considered a “regenerated fiber”. High-cellulose material, primarily retrieved from timber processing and crop residues (especially cotton), is chemically processed and converted to produce manufactured fibers. Rayon and cuprammonium are examples of those.

hemp fiber what we need to know

ORIGINS OF THE HEMP FIBER

For years, polyester has been gaining traction while cotton loses ground. Protein-based animal fibers such as wool and silk have also been losing popularity. Today, hemp constitutes only about 0.3% (on a tonnage basis) of the world’s natural fiber production (excluding wood fiber).

Also known as cannabis Sativa, hemp is an herb of Moraceae family with 150 varieties. Generally, its use falls into three categories: hemp for fiber, for oil and for medicine. Hemp fibers and seeds have incredible value and, therefore, hemp is considered a “cash crop”.

Hemp has been cultivated for over 12.000 years in many civilizations and the fiber can be used to replace textiles and synthetic materials. Currently, more than 30 countries produce hemp, China, Canada, and France are the leading producers.

China has dominated the hemp production for millennia for textile applications, mostly for clothing and other woven applications. And although China has been the largest producer because hemp can be grown almost everywhere in the country, today we see fewer crops in Chinese agriculture. In Europe, the main producers are France, the United Kingdom, and Italy whose reputation for high-quality hemp is outstanding, but production has decreased in the last several decades. Other minor productions of hemp also occur in Austria, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania, North Korea, Chile, and Peru.

DID YOU KNOW….

Hemp is an amazing plant. Beyond providing useful fibers, its seeds also have a high nutritional value. Healthy foods produced from hemp include energy bars,  salad dressing, milk, protein shakes, oil capsules and protein powder.

Advantages of Using Hemp Fibers

Hemp is one of the oldest sources of textile fiber, with remains of hemp cloth trailing back for at least six millennia.

  • Strength: for thousands of years, hemp has been mostly used for rope because it can withstand heavyweights.
  • Durability: Hemp is sun-proof and corrosion-resistant.
  • Water resistance: Hemp is a partial hydrophobic fiber which means that it does not absorb water and instead tries to reflect the water.
  • Environment-friendly: it can produce everything from clothing to paper to fuel in an easier, cheaper and environmentally friendly manner.
  • Bacterial resistant: …and dirt-proof, among other characteristics that make it a great sterile material.
  • Moisture-wicking: Hemp fiber has a natural moisture absorption
  • Breathable: It’s a material that allows your skin to breath, it is permeable to air.

Hemp’s also resistant to ultraviolet radiation, providing good protection to the human body and that’s why hemp textiles are especially suited for sun protective clothing and various specific work clothes.

Hemp Fiber origins

The Different Applications of Hemp

The applications of this versatile fiber go from making paper, to textiles, to food supplements and more. Let’s see…

Hemp fiber can be used to make paper. Its fiber production per mu (0.33 hectare) of hemp field is several times higher than that of a forest. Hemp paper is useful for specific products such as currency and cigarette papers. This fiber is of great interest to the pulp and paper industry because of its superior strength properties.

This magical fiber is one of the most effective transformers of solar power to biological energy on Earth and it can be used as an industrial raw material and fuel. The stem and bark can be used to produce fiber and the rest (71% fiber content) to produce products with a wood basis material: plastics, plastic boards and insulators.

Hemp seed-oil can be used to produce toxic-free paints and coatings as well as lubricant, light oil or fuel oil. It can produce coke through pyrogenic decomposition and ethyl alcohol through microbial fermentation.

Hemps seeds can also be processed to become food or feed. According to some studies, the oil content of hempseeds is about 30-35% and they are also rich in easily digestible and absorbable proteins. These seeds also contain 8 essential amino acids and several unsaturated fatty acids as well as several trace elements, such as vitamin B and E, a super food!

Hemp has been used to produce fabric, for centuries, initially to manufacture ropes and sails. More recently, this prime material became fashionable and is seen as a trendy fabric.

 

Hundreds of houses have been built in Europe, Asia, and North America using hemp–lime construction. The foundations, walls, floors, and ceilings of houses can be made using hemp hurds mixed with natural lime and water. Hemp–lime stucco can be much lighter than cement and with better heating and sound-insulating properties.

 

Hundreds of houses have been built in Europe, Asia, and North America using hemp–lime construction. The foundations, walls, floors, and ceilings of houses can be made using hemp hurds mixed with natural lime and water. Hemp–lime stucco can be much lighter than cement and with better heating and sound-insulating properties.

 

It’s actual straw is invaluable for producing excellent construction materials for buildings. Flax, jute, kenaf, hemp, and wheat straw are used for sheet composite board. Today, polypropylene or glass fiber is often employed to reinforce cement and plaster. Similarly, hemp fibers added to concrete increase tensile strength while reducing shrinkage and cracking.

Hemp leaves, flowers, stem-fiber and seeds have been used in medicine since ancient times. We can extract tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), tetrahydrocannabidiol (THCV), tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and tetrahydrocannabidiolic acid (THCVA) from hemp flowers. These chemicals have synergistic effects in anesthesia and are able to increase the anesthetic effects and achieve faster treatment. They can also be used to relieve cases of HIV, glaucoma, asthma, cancer, epilepsy and hemiplegia, among others.

Belonging to the ecologically correct range of fabrics, it’s natural characteristics are well known and appreciated. Durability even comes last when we recall antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

hemp fiber uses

IN A NUTSHELL

In order to explore this plant specialized harvesting, processing, spinning, and weaving equipment are required. The refinement of equipment and new technologies are viewed as fundamental for making fine textile production practical in Western Europe and North America, but currently, China controls this market and probably will remain dominant soon.

Currently, France is the leading European country in fiber hemp cultivation. But it remains to be seen whether Europe will continue to dominate in the nonwoven applications of this fiber and whether hemp fiber will become more competitive in the future.

Cannabis sativa has considerable potential as an oilseed crop and Canada has become the leading country of hempseed production since industrial hemp was reintroduced in 1998.  As it was done by the EU who is also growing more of this oilseed. It remains to be determined which will become more profitable in the future.

A major roadblock for the development of hemp fiber is a lack of an extraction technology. These fibers are extracted by retting—which means that the stems need to rot, mostly either by exposure to humidity in the field or by being submerged in water. But as the water becomes chemically polluted this method is prohibited in most developed countries.

Marialma team.