By Elizabeth “Boo” Lunt
A group of Tasmanian women hemp farmers ran a crowdfunding campaign this August raising over 1.5 million Australian dollars (about $1 M USD) from 900 investors. Now, X-Hemp, Tasmania’s only hemp processing facility, has entered into an agreement with Hannan Build, a hemp construction company based in New South Wales, whose principals are planning one of the largest commercial hemp projects ever built, scheduled to begin construction next year in the capital city of Hobart, Tasmania. About 35 hempcrete homes have been built in Tasmania so far, according to X-Hemp.
X-Hemp founder Andi Lucas told HempBuild Mag she was motivated by the “chance to tell the story” of hemp and offer regular people the chance to invest in the new industry. Crowdfunding “democratizes capital,” she said, by offering the investment opportunity for as little as $300AUD. “This is for people who don’t normally invest,” she said, and who want to support the industry. She points out that having the 1.5 million allows X-Hemp to get the rest of the money they need to build out, because once a company has money, it’s easier to get more from traditional sources.
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In starting and running her own company, Lucas has also hired an all-woman team which met her goal of supporting women. Now, X-Hemp has raised enough funds to continue building a hemp processing center in Tasmania, and is the first all-woman hemp processing company in the world.
With the new agreement, X-Hemp will be providing 25,000 kilos of hemp hurd for the building, and have already started delivering. Shane Hannan and his team will bring installers from New South Wales as well as lead a team of Tasmanian installers. There are no weather constraints because they are renovating an interior with curved hemp walls.
“One project like that from every area in the world and you have an industry,” Lucas said. Hannan Build has also committed to using X-Hemp products in every subsequent project.
This year, Lucas said, X-Hemp has 66 hectares recently planted growing three varieties: Excalibur, MS-77 and CHY. Seed production is part of their business as well, a need Lucas realized when she saw 1400 hectares of seed production shrink to just 20 in Australia. Now X-Hemp grows for seed as well as hurd. They also process the stubble from seed varieties.
The company has come a long way in a few short years. After nearly folding a couple of years ago, “in 2024 we’ll have a waitlist,” Lucas said.
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It was burn resistance that led Lucas to the idea of wanting to throw her professional energy into the hemp industry in her home state of Tasmania. After a devastating pair of housing losses, Lucas says the results of a “red-wine fueled Google search” for fire-resistant building materials convinced her that hemp construction would meet her desire to address “the climate crisis and housing security.”
In 2013, Lucas was living nine months of the year in Colorado and the other three back home in Tasmania. She was working at a company that sold niche camera supplies, which, although successful, was not a passion project. In January of that year, her cottage in Tasmania burned to the ground in the Dunalley bushfire that ravaged the area. Lucas lost her library of books, items from her grandparents – in fact, everything but the clothes she had on, her purse, her passport and her laptop. “The speed of the fire was amazing,” Lucas said. They were given two hours to evacuate and the house was destroyed an hour later.
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Devastated, she took refuge at her apartment in Boulder, CO. Nine months later, that too was ruined in one of the largest floods in Colorado history, when a storm system got trapped over the area and dropped 9 inches of rain in a day, destroying more than 1,800 homes. Lucas says she considered herself luckier than others despite these terrible losses, and threw herself into seeking a meaningful path for her life.
Seeing the toxicity of the materials her homes were made from – learning about the carcinogens released from traditional building materials in a fire shocked her, she said – made her want to discover something better. Her research led her to hemp.
She had planned to build a hemp house in Colorado, she says, but had to leave the US abruptly in 2019 after the Trump administration gutted the visa offices and she was unable to get her paperwork processed. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as COVID came along and she was already safely home in Tasmania, where interest in hemp was burgeoning.
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Lucas volunteered at the Tasmanian Hemp Association and quickly took on a leadership role, learning about growing and supply chain issues. The bottleneck was processing.
She developed a concept for a company and took her ideas on the road to raise funds from locals. “I would rent a room in a pub and literally pitched people with a powerpoint dog and pony show” she said. Lucas convinced 33 believers to lend her money with a fixed 5% return for three years. Getting the machine was just the beginning.
“It’s been a brutal couple of years,” Lucas said “and the most rewarding of my professional life.”
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Originally published December 6, 2023 on Hemp Building Mag