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Becomes a Reality

by Lynn and Judy Osburn

North Coast XPress, p. 9, February/March 1994
P.O. Box 1226, Occidental, CA 95465

C&S SPECIALTY BUILDER'S SUPPLY INC. of Harrisburg, Oregon, leads the field in the development of hemp building materials. Their first offering is hemp MDF (medium density fiber) composite boards. The hemp boards tested by Washington State University Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory proved to be two and one half times stronger than wood MDF composites, plus hemp composite boards have three times more elasticity than wood composite boards. Elasticity is the factor that determines whether or not a nail can be driven into the board. Another advantage is that water won't penetrate the hemp boards.
          C&S partners David Seber and William Conde say, "The composite board industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the wood products industry in the United States, with 1991 sales of over one billion dollars, and one whose primary raw material is becoming scarce."
          According to Seber, "The first law of composite science is: the strength of the product is proportional to the length of the fiber. Hemp is the King Kong plant of fibers. Though long fiber is hemp's best feature, even when ground up it's still two to three times stronger." C&S had to grind their hemp in order to process it without modification of existing machinery. Seber predicts that eventually hemp will revolutionize the building materials industry, with long-fiber hemp composites rivaling steel I-beams in strength.
          Despite the shortage of hemp stalks on the world market, C&S has continued research into other industrial hemp products. In Springtime 1993 C&S formed a mutual research project with Xylem Inc. Together they're building the world's first prototype "Xylanizer" biofractionation line. Biofractionation is the process of reducing plant matter into three basic components: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The process is also called "steam explosion."
          Starting in Winter 1993 in conjunction with a grant from the United States Alternative Energy Corporation, C&S will conduct Xylanizer research on hemp and other agricultural plants. C&S investigators believe hemp "hurds have great potential to make glues for composite construction products" -- products that are non-toxic and generally superior to the expensive and toxic petroleum based binders currently used. With this technology industry can produce completely non-toxic composite boards where all components are derived from hemp.
          The industrial hemp entrepreneurs at C&S Specialty Builders Supply "have concluded that the best alternative to wood in construction products is hemp. In fact, hemp has the potential to be vastly superior to wood for everything from lumber to plywood to particle board or any other composite construction material."
          C&S is planning to blend straw with hemp because the availability of hemp stalks is sporadic. Fiberboard made from straw alone isn't as strong as wood fiberboard but when blended with hemp it exceeds all standards for comparable composites and wood products. Right now they are having difficulty locating a supply of hemp stalks to continue research.