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The US Department of Energy is encouraging hemp building products in a program designed to bring innovative and carbon-sequestering green building materials to market.
The IMPEL (Incubating Market-Propelled Entrepreneurial Lab) incubator program at the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Labs has included two hemp-based businesses in its current cohort of building materials innovators.
A flame-resistant hemp cladding in prototype stage for Colorado wildfire zone retrofits was represented by Jean Lotus (editor of HempbuildMag) in Berkeley, CA on December 9. Christopher Penn of Indianapolis-based Mr. Hemp House will join a group of building materials innovators in Indianapolis March 13, 2023. Penn is developing a hemp-lime block system for insulation.
The 60 companies represented in the cohort are introduced to mentors from the finance and building science world to help secure funding and shepherd a product from prototype to commercially viable product. Fifteen of the total 60 companies will be selected for further mentoring to develop business plans and pitch to green investor groups and present at a DOE showcase in 2023.
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The IMPEL program, which debuted in 2019, has supported other hemp products in past years.
Joshua English of Solana Beach, CA-based okom wrks labs participated this year with a regenerative hemp and mycelium-based biocomposite called Zero-Frm, which has structural, load-bearing properties. The company received seed funding from its first investor in March, 2022. Okom wrks signed an MOU with the DOE’s Advanced Building Construction (ABC) Collaborative, that integrates high-tech manufacturing with low carbon materials, the agency said.
Okom wrks has also partnered with BIOPHIL Natural Fibers to build a hemp processing and research facility in Lumberton, NC. The One North Carolina Fund supported the project with a performance-based grant of $125,000.
In 2021, Tommy Gibbons of Ketchum, ID-based Hempitecture, Inc. participated in the IMPEL program as the company prepared to open its Idaho facility for the US production of hemp-based batt insulation.
Hempitecture was recently awarded $500,000 (2nd place) at Grow NY’s Food and Agriculture business competition. The company has opened a new batt insulation facility in southern Idaho manufacturing HempWool® insulation from US-grown hemp to support the emerging US supply chain for hemp fiber.
Hempitecture was chosen by the US DOE to participate in a two-year fellowship with the DOE’s Innovation Crossroads program at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee. Hempitecture also received CRADA funds with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory to make prototypes for hemp-based continuous insulation sheathing products.
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Why this interest in hemp from the Department of Energy?
“Decarbonization is the one word that really gets the Department of Energy excited,” Hempitecture’s Gibbons told a crowd at the US Hemp Building Summit in Austin, TX in October of 2021.
“They really see hemp as a tool to take carbon out of the air, turn it into value-added products and do that at scale. Decarbonization has become a huge focus of this administration and this Department of Energy, they are willing to go all-in on that,” he added.
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Originally published December 18, 2022 on Hemp Building Mag