Hemp is a biomass material cultivated all over the world, but U.S. laws prevent it from being commercially grown in this country. Because hemp belongs to the same plant family as controversial marijuana, there is some confusion about the use and production of hemp plants. These two plants are not the same, though, with the benefits of hemp production and material for the U.S. economy outweighing any perceived risk.
The very first printed book in Europe was printed on hemp paper in 1455. By the late 1880s the majority of paper was made of hemp, including pages for the Bible and the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. By the new millennium each American consumed 735 lbs. of paper per year, destroying a billion trees per year. It takes 50 to 500 years for a tree to grow sufficiently to be used to make paper, whereas hemp can be cultivated within a hundred days. Hemp paper lasts longer and is also smarter to recycle; it can be recycled three more times that paper made of wood pulp.
As one of the strongest fibers on the planet, hemp has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. The long fibers of hemp mean items made of hemp for construction will be stronger and lighter than wood products. Not only does it hold nails better, particle board made of hemp can be twice as strong as wood. Moreover, just 1 acre of hemp produces cellulose fiber pulp equal to 4 acres of trees, so hemp could easily and efficiently replace most items made of wood.
Since you can produce 10 tons of hemp per acre in four months, it is the planet's No. 1 biomass source. Just 6 percent of the continental United States could be used to provide the biomass needed to fill all of the country's energy needs. Because it grows quickly in mass quantity, this renewable resource is more ecologically responsible and better for the earth than the deforestation that tears down forests for wood products.
U.S. law forbids the commercial production of hemp, partly because it is in the same plant family as marijuana, even though it doesn't produce the same chemical that pot users need to get high. Meanwhile 70 percent of America's forests have been destroyed since 1916, with increased consumption expected over the next several decades. Other countries have led the charge in harnessing this alternative, renewable resource. China has become one of the largest exporters of hemp products, and Great Britain offers government subsidies to grow these biomass crops.