Seaweed homes with hemp insulation: How rethinking renewables is helping sustainability

rethink sustainability

Seaweed homes with hemp insulation: How rethinking renewables is helping sustainability

The earth is already bursting at its seams and the problem is expected to get worse. The UN forecasts that the planet will be home to close to 10 billion people by 2050, a rise of almost 30% from its current total of 7.7 billion. The rapid rise gets especially worrying when climate change is factored in. As a result, conventional methods of catering to basic human needs such as housing and clothing will have to be reimagined.

Fortunately new sustainable materials, often from unexpected sources, are promising to make a dent in the challenges facing humanity.

 

A sustainable building foundation

Shelter might be a critical need for every human being, but affordable housing, especially in cities, is increasingly out of reach for many. In cities like Hanoi and Mumbai, where housing as a share of income exceeds 200% and sometimes 300%.

This housing crisis will only get worse as the strain on cities increases. The UN forecasts that by 2050, 68% of the world's population will be living in urban areas. Housing solutions to accommodate such population densities must factor in ambitious climate change goals as well. For example, the European Union aims to cut carbon emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels. A significant chunk of that cut will have to come from residential and commercial buildings.

Housing solutions to accommodate such population densities must factor in ambitious climate change goals as well.

A few promising sustainable materials in the building industry which will help this goal include:

 

Sargassum

A brown seaweed that stinks, kills turtles and chokes pipes has found an unusual lease on life as building blocks for houses. In coastal Mexico, a local man has developed the bricks using the seaweed and used them to build a house. They are cast in molds and baked in the sun, a process similar to the more commonly used adobe bricks. These blocks are about half as expensive though. The solution has a potential to be leveraged in coastal communities around the world.

In coastal Mexico, a local man has developed the bricks using the seaweed and used them to build a house.

Hempcrete

Hemp hurds (the woody portion of the stalk), water and a lime binder are being combined to manufacture sustainable hempcrete. The product is used as home insulation and to build walls. The eco-friendly plant product has been shown to be three times more crack-proof than concrete, with about the same fire resistance.

The hempcrete has been shown to be three times more crack-proof than concrete, with about the same fire resistance.

Sheep's wool and mineral wool

Pro wool or mineral wool is made from inorganic fibers derived from volcanic rock. The material is shown to be an ace in fire-resistance. It is especially useful for households where allergen-free environments are a high priority, says Ellen Cagnassola, marketing manager at Pipe Works Services, a home energy services company in New Jersey.

 

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A similar insulation product is made with sheep's wool and is popular in parts of Europe and New Zealand. It has a low degree of heat loss making it a great material to work with, especially in regions with harsh winters. Coconut fiber and cork (both sustainable plant-based materials) are also used to create insulation sheets.

 

Clothing challenge solutions

It is not housing alone that is seeing sustainable solutions being tested - the clothing and accessories industries are also experimenting with new materials.

 

Pineapple fibers

Fibres from the leaves of pineapples are being used to create Piňatex, which has the look of canvas and can be dyed and printed to create different textures for clothes. The waste product is also a biomass that can be used as fertiliser. Piňatex, which is gaining ground in the Philippines, can be used in almost all cases where clothing material is called for, including in clothes and bags and other accessories.

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Fibres from the leaves of pineapples are being used to create different textures for clothes.

 

Recycling clothing

Los Angeles-based Ambercycle is looking to extract polyester from textiles through a three-stage chemical process. This method can endlessly recycle all textiles with zero waste. To qualify as recyclable, clothes must have a minimum of 30% polyester. Ambercycle is working on keeping a complete cycle going, also manufacturing clothes with the fibers, which can then again be recycled.

 

Plastic for shoes

Rothy's, an LA-based outfitter, has developed a successful line of shoes made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. In 2018, Rothy's sold more than 1 million pairs and brought in revenues of over $140 million. The company has repurposed 30 million plastic bottles in the three years since it launched production.

 

Rethinking CO2

MeanwhileOpus 12 has found a way to turn carbon dioxide into a valuable product to tackle our carbon footprint. A process of “industrial photosynthesis” takes CO2 and turns it into critical chemical products that can be used as the basis for many, everyday products. One of main transformations is the capture and conversion of CO2 into ethylene, which can be converted into building blocks for new materials such as packaging, wires, jet fuel and even trainers.

A process of “industrial photosynthesis” takes CO2 and turns it into ethylene, which can be converted into building blocks for new materials such as packaging, wires, jet fuel and even trainers.

 

What lies ahead

While these sustainable materials show plenty of promise in both the building of homes and in clothing, cost still remains a significant factor that impedes large-scale adoption.

Cost still remains a significant factor that impedes large-scale adoption.

“Hempcrete and sheep's wool are not widely available, increasing insulation cost not only because the material costs more than traditional fiberglass but also because of the administrative costs to source them," says Valerie Navarre, creator of Viv Spaces, an online shop dedicated to biophilic (modeled on nature) work spaces. Using sustainable materials on a larger scale is going to depend on these materials being manufactured and used at scale. In the United States, for example, growing hemp faces uphill legal battles.

Biophilic design dictates that local materials be sourced for local building and clothing. It might be a powerful and low-carbon solution to many of these challenges, Navarre says. After all, sustainability is not just about what materials are made out of, it's also about how and where they are sourced.

These considerations will doubtless come into play as the world tries new materials to experiment with in its quest to shelter and clothe billions of people sustainably.

Wichtige Hinweise.

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