The Open Construction & Building Technology Journal

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Bio-Composites to Tackle UK Built Environment Carbon Emissions: Comparative Analysis on Load-Bearing Capacity, Hygroscopic and Thermal Performance of Compressed Earth Blocks with Addition of Industrial Hemp Waste

Alberto Fernandez Minguela*
Circular Value Chains, High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute, HSSMI Limited, 3 Lesney Avenue, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, E20 3BS, London, United Kingdom



The built environment contributes up to 47% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Typically, building materials have an energy intensive life cycle. The UK construction industry generated 100 million tonnes of total waste in 2012. Only half of this was diverted from landfill. Facing this scenario, a mainstream transition towards biological materials in the building sector is encouraged to reduce embodied energy and carbon and to divert construction waste from landfill.


This research aims to inform UK producers that there are available bio-composite materials for construction that can meet the mainstream requirements.


This paper analyses the effect of the addition of waste from industrial hemp agriculture to Earth Blocks on the performance of building products. To avoid potentially negative consequences of food displacement, an agricultural by-product from industrial hemp production was used. Hemp was also selected due to its known superior hygrothermal performance.

In the study, fine hemp shiv was added to Compressed Earth Blocks’ mix following three different Earth/Hemp ratios (75/25; 62.5/37.5; 50/50) also a control series. The compressive strength, conductivity and moisture performance were tested, analysed and then compared with the mainstream values.


The results revealed that blocks’ load-bearing capacity reduced and thermal conductivity also reduced, hence increasing its insulation capacity. The moisture performance also reduced as hemp ratio increased. In comparison with the mainstream products, the results comply with the standard requirements. Thermal capacity overperformed mainstream products.


A closed loop approach for the construction industry is possible. Bio-composite materials offer the industry an option for the reduction of embodied energy, carbon emissions and construction waste, while meeting industry standards and building regulations.

Keywords: Agricultural waste, Closed loop, Hygrothermal performance, Compressed earth blocks, Hemp shiv, Test block series.

Article Information

Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2017
Volume: 11
Issue: Suppl-2, M8
First Page: 395
Last Page: 412
Publisher Id: TOBCTJ-11-395
DOI: 10.2174/1874836801711010395

Article History:

Received Date: 14/06/2017
Revision Received Date: 29/07/2017
Acceptance Date: 29/08/2017
Electronic publication date: 30/11/2017
Collection year: 2017

© 2017 Alberto Fernandez Minguela.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute, HSSMI Limited, 3 Lesney Avenue, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, E20 3BS, London, United Kingdom; Tel: 0044 (0) 7562738761; E-mails:;

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