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Traditional and New Applications of Hemp

Part of the Sustainable Agriculture Reviews book series (SARV,volume 42)


Recent trends in natural resources, energy conservation, biomass conversion to chemicals, bioproducts and biofuels have renewed the interest on hemp as a new low-cost, sustainable, ecological, biodegradable, recyclable, and multi-purpose material. Hemp-based materials are indeed suitable substitutes for many fossil-based materials and applications.

The hemp plant Cannabis sativa Linn, referring to industrial hemp, is a high-yielding annual industrial crop grown, for the fibers from hemp stalk and for the oil from hemp seeds. Although hemp is a niche crop, hemp production is currently undergoing a renaissance. More than 30 countries grow hemp, with China being the largest hemp producing and exporting country. Europe and Canada are also important actors in the global hemp market.

Hemp has many better properties than other plant species, such as superior fiber length, strength and absorbency, interesting thermal and acoustic properties, excellent oil quality for both industrial and feed uses, environmental and economic benefits, and a myriad of applications. For millenia, hemp has been a source of fibers, proteins, and oilseed used worldwide to produce a variety of consumer products for the four fundamental human needs, i.e. food, shelter, clothes and energy.

Traditionally, hemp as fiber plant has been used in the production of apparels, fabrics, papers, cordages, and building materials. For instance, hemp was found in cloth unearthed from the tomb of Pharaoh Alchanaten dating back to 1200 B.C. and the Guttenberg Bible was printed on hemp paper in 1456. The hurds, as waste byproduct of fiber production, were used for bedding of animals, the seeds to human nutrition, e.g. as flour, and the oil for a wide range of purposes, from cooking to cosmetics. Hemp has also been an important crop throughout human history for medicine, e.g. to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.

Other more recent applications include materials for insulation and furniture, automotive composites for interior applications and motor vehicle parts, bioplastics, jewelry and fashion sector, animal feed, animal bedding, e.g. mulch for horses and kitty litter, and energy and fuel production. Foods containing hemp seed and oil are currently marketed in worldwide for both animal and human nutrition. They also find applications in beverages, e.g. in beer and wine industries, and in neutraceutical products. Hemp oil is also used for cosmetics and personal care items, paints, printing inks, detergents, and solvents. It is estimated that the global market for hemp consists of more than 25,000 products.

Currently, the construction and insulation sector, paper and textile industries, and food and nutrition domains are the main markets while the cosmetics and automotive sector are growing markets. Innovative applications, e.g. in the medical and therapeutic domains, cosmeceuticals, phytoremediation, acoustic domain, wastewater treatment, biofuels, bio-pesticides and biotechnology, opens new challenges. Hemp is also the object of numerous fundamental studies.

This chapter provides an overview of the traditional and new uses of industrial hemp.


  • Hemp applications
  • Textiles
  • Paper
  • Building materials
  • Food
  • Beverages
  • Cosmetics
  • Biocomposites
  • Energy production
  • Biofuel
  • Environmental uses

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-41384-2_2
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Correspondence to Grégorio Crini .

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Crini, G., Lichtfouse, E., Chanet, G., Morin-Crini, N. (2020). Traditional and New Applications of Hemp. In: Crini, G., Lichtfouse, E. (eds) Sustainable Agriculture Reviews 42. Sustainable Agriculture Reviews, vol 42. Springer, Cham.

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