South African project demonstrates hemp’s potential to upgrade existing buildings

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Two South African companies say they will put the finishing touches on a seven-story building expansion constructed with hemp blocks later this year.

Hemporium and Afrimat Hemp, both of Cape Town, partnered to raise an existing conventional five-story building, 84 Harrington Street, to 12 stories by adding levels constructed with blocks from Afrimat Hemp.

The building will house a flagship retail outlet for Hemporium’s range of hemp-derived clothing, skin care and CBD products, a steak restaurant and 50 hotel rooms, said Hemporium founding partner and CEO Duncan Parker.

Setting a benchmark

The privately financed project will serve as a showcase for industrial hemp in South Africa, “setting the benchmark on how to build a safe, carbon-neutral, multi-story building using hemp blocks and hemp systems,” Parker said.

Walls in the addition are 28cm thick.

The expanded building also features solar panels, smart metering, a borehole and specialized filtration for backup water supply, a backup diesel generator, and floor slabs based on a thermally activated building system (TABS) which uses the concrete as a thermal battery, eliminating the need for mechanical heating and cooling.

“There is an increase in the global demand for bio-based construction which is driven by the need for the reduction of CO2 emissions,” said Wolf Wolf, Principal Architect & Founder of Wolf & Wolf Architects, Cape Town specialists in sustainable and timber buildings which designed the expansion.

Healthy spaces

“We see hemp construction as the ideal building material for both new buildings and renovations to existing buildings, to create happy healthy spaces that are good for people and the environment,” Wolf said.

Bricks made by Afrimat

European hemp hurd imported by Hemporium was mixed with a binder based on locally sourced lime from Afrimat to produce blocks in dimensions 110 x 190 x 390mm. A fire rating of 135 minutes was recorded for the blocks. Wall thickness is 28 cm.

Concrete framing

Concrete piles serve as the building’s foundation, with framing of concrete. Timber in the building was harvested locally in Cape Town.

R&N Master Builders, a specialist in building alterations and renovations also based in Cape Town, was the construction contractor.

Afrimat Hemp, a subsidiary of publicly traded mining company Afrimat, has developed its own formulated lime binder for hempcrete and is making hempcrete blocks at one of its parent company’s block production plants. In addition to lime, parent company Afrimat also mines iron ore, anthracite and manganese.

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