About the Guest Speaker
Dion was born and raised in Northern Alberta. His family has a history in farming, and in business. He is a provincial pioneer in natural building with over 11 years in hemp technology development, and seven years in hempcrete construction.
Dion is a past presenter for the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, (CHTA) Alberta Hub, Growth Alberta, and an active member of the International Hemp Building Association. (IHBA). He is the innovator behind Alberta’s first hempcrete home, and the world’s first portable hemp house. The “micro-project” is a prototype home to showcase the potential of industrial hemp as a biomass solution to sustainable development in North America. Corporate interests in Western Canada are modeling from his innovative designs, and the industry sees new potential in hemp technology solutions for a sustainable future.
Dion continues to coordinate efforts with industry associations, first nations groups, governments, and post-secondary schools. He is a workshop host, facilitating events and education platforms throughout Western Canada. Dion has been recognized nationally and internationally for his humanitarian efforts.
Dion now uses a unique precast block (Divita) that fits and retrofits into conventional 2×4 or 2×6 framing.
Questions and Answers
- We kind of touched on this when we did our interview last week. But for somebody that’s processing and looking to feed into blocks, right, or what you’re looking for, as far as materials, can you speak to what you are seeing in the industry and what do you need from the industry, so we can work on bridging that gap?
Dion Lefebvre answered
I think having some type of universally adopted grading system, we need to move towards that there’s a lot of different marketable commodities in the hemp plant, and a lot of different end users using a variety of different materials. So my needs on a cast in place are different from my needs for block production, which are different from say Cameron Macintosh’s needs for spray application. So having a meeting system that we can say, hey, I need a number two, or number number number to be or whatever it is that we establish, I think moving forward that’s going to help with that raw material supply chain. It’s really difficult to go to market with anything unless we have some consistency in raw material. That’s something that I struggled with.
- Can you talk to me about what is the size for a block compared to a spray? No spray? Quarter inch compared to it? Yeah, what are we looking at?
Dion Lefebvre answered
so I don’t have camera would be the one to kind of validate that as far as money goes, I don’t have a lot of experience but I do have a very general I guess better than a general understanding of the process but you’re looking at typically a finer ship size length for the spray nozzles because that can clog up through his processes. In mixers for both the blocks and cast in place we’re looking for a very low fiber content so very minimal bass fiber, which can be an issue for mixing. So I’m looking at less than 5% bass fiber in the herd. I’m also looking for something very clean with no seed and the particular size looking at a range of about three eighths of an inch to three quarters of an inch typically. Now we have a graded here in Canada over to Canada we have what they call a medium grade herd and then find herd and I’m using both of those in my next slide about a 5050 Depending on the size of the biomass that yet so but we are seeing I mean it’s it’s natural plant it grows different than fields grows different Farmer to Farmer year to year we’re gonna have a slight variation that we got to accept within the industry. But yeah, those are kind of what I’m looking for. In casting place and for blocks is that three eighths to three quarter inch kind of blend. I really don’t like anything to see too much over an inch, but I have used stuff that’s as hairy as two inches. So you can get away with there’s a lot more room for error with cast in place than when you’re looking at having a uniform and, and consistent material like a blog.
- You see that the fiber itself or the quality of the fiber from the field really impacts the end use and is decortication or different decortication facilities really impacting your quality of product. Can you speak to that a little bit so that, especially as people are looking to bring processing on board, what should they really be focusing on?
Dion Lefebvre answered
Yeah, big time. So we have quite a variation, depending on the method of decortication. Some people are using hammermills. Again, depending on how that’s done and how it’s screened, it’s definitely a viable option. decortication there’s options. Depending on where you’re at in the world. There’s, there’s people that have been established in Europe quite some time, Australia has been producing processors, the US is doing some stuff, and there’s mobile, Dakota caters, there’s one tonne an hour, and I’ve seen as high as I’ve seen as high as four runs myself, I’ve heard of the elusive unicorn where there’s one guy doing 16 tons an hour decorticated, I haven’t seen that myself verify it. But volume is a big thing depending on what processors are, what their primary commodity is. Typically, what I found in the industry is that the bass fiber has a higher value per ton. So that’s typically what they’re trying to extract from the plant. Depending on market capture and sales, the hurd would be, in most cases, a byproduct of that high value fiber. But again, it depends on what that commodity is and what that main commodity is. And every processor is going to be processing for a different commodity and that has a different sales channel. So there’s obviously the flower that’s available for retail or for a commodity, there’s the seed seed oil. And then when you get down to the fibers, the basket and the hurd, right, so there’s a lot of different commodities. But it just depends on what they’re producing for, I guess, secondary equipment, having a good screening process where you can sift through that and get that particular size that your end users are gonna want. And I work with the producer’s processors up here, just, kind of liaising my experiences and my needs, and they’re really good at trying to accommodate what I need for sizes.
- We’ve been working to put that together for quite some time, but haven’t settled on exactly what specs would be. And I think like you were saying, it’d be best to have maybe different ideal specification ranges for different methods of installment like asked in place, block and spray. I was wondering if you think there’s any other methods that need to be identified in that list. And then also as far as the starting point on that procedure, putting that out there, what we’ve done is put together, like the test methods, and what what might be tested for, and kind of the procedures for testing your herd or, having a third party program that people could say, people that supply get heard from France and other countries, particularly in France, they have a program that is I’m not sure exactly what they measure or what they do, but it’s like the construction, LaShawn where they have some some certification or stamp of approval on their herd. I think they look more like where the hemp was grown. And that it’s a healthy supply chain, or it’s not being used to suck up chemicals and then ground up and use for your house or something, but I’m not sure what they do as far as sizing, but how do you think that or what who could play a role or how could that program be put in place to put a stamp of approval on heard in the United States, do you think?
Dion Lefebvre answered
USHPA is a good start. I think ASTM is another. We submitted a recommendation through the IRC committee for ASTM certification and adaptation of hempcrete in the building codes, so I’m not sure where they are in that whole process right now. But aside from particular size, fiber is a concern or something that needs to be kind of assessed. And I guess catalog with your different styles. So you get the fiber, the outer bass fiber fiber content, in my, from my experience, I like it less than 5%. And dust is another consideration that needs to be with a grading system. So the higher the amount of dust that I have in my hurd, the more water consumption I’m using in a shop and in the field. So, and that does affect that mixing, it affects our, our mixers,they’re like bakers, we’re constantly improvising based on the raw material supply we have, a good baker can do that by field, which a lot of my guys can right now. So, but it is, it would be nice to have a consistency across the board where we didn’t have to die to leech each token bird that we open up into, kind of just just tweak our formula, so to speak, to match that grade.
- We have like three factors, like you’ve mentioned, all of them, it’s the fiber percentage, dust content, and then the size, and how you measure that size, aspect ratio versus what system you have, whether it’s computerized or you’re doing it with a picture and taking an average size spec or what that process is, what we have written up as is the ASTM procedures which choose like ceived decks and so it can be done easily by anybody. You can do it by weight. And so it’s not that you don’t need a super complicated like the easiest, lowest common first test procedure that most people get their hands on. But the other two factors are odor and color. And those are kind of more just like check marks. You don’t really it’s either it looks way off there should be like a color race should be like a call it golden Gray, because that sounds really nice. But there it shouldn’t be brown, black. Ideally for the appearance of the hempcrete. But what other factors do you think besides those five besides odor? Appearance?
Dion Lefebvre answered
I think most processors are probably people on this platform with a little more experience in that realm than I have. But I think things have to be dried to where they can run through the process. Again, having dry facilities to be able to rebag that bagging system. That would be next. The only other thing I can think of is is humidity which will affect the weight
- Moisture typically is 10 to 15% It’s like where you want to keep it like fur one is processed and then the herd I mean the critical thing that a lot of people also don’t keep in mind a spec is the packaging that it comes in there’s like the industry standard 33 pound from Europe and then we have like a 40 pound interest in the United States for a bag but I guess one thing that the moisture content is heavily dictated by how it’s packaged so that’s why we use plastic typically for packaging a lot of that’s moved in Super sacks and if it’s isn’t a super sack, it’s susceptible to gaining moisture in transportation or where it’s where it’s kept but that is what do you think the ideal bag sizes for? I mean, for your operations? Maybe you could take it in huge loads for the blocks, but I mean, for your casting site, what do you think the best bag weight would be?
Dion Lefebvre answered
I do like the pound bags. I mean, they’re easy, convenient, they’re Yeah, they’re easy to move around and stuff like that on the site. So there is a certain amount of convenience with them. Being a green builder and focusing on waste as well. So I hate that I don’t like plastic, I can avoid it and I do a lot of my cast in place with the supersets. But there’s an issue with logistics and shipping. You can get a lot more on a pallet if it is a compression sack. So I can typically fit three totes worth on a pallet for shipping. If it’s compression sack in plastic so for cost savings and logistics compression sock is the way
- I’ve heard a couple of times I’m curious about your feedback for this is that when the hurt is shipped and it’s not compression, packed it then moves and creates a lot of dust inside the packaging or could potentially No, make the product unusable for a hand block. Is that also a concern beyond?
Dion Lefebvre answered
There’s a bit of a settling that happens for sure. Bottom of the bag so to speak, you get that duster forms. So we integrate that will bring our bag down to about less than an eighth left in the bag and then we’ll transfer to new bags. So we’re constantly trying to blend that dust particularly into it. But you’re right. And you’ll see that settling even a 33 pound bag.
- Where are you seeing as far as specs and standards for the end product as you built the system and kind of seeing what that looks like, what is what the market looks like now? And what are we seeing potential market demand if it’s going to shift on specs or standards for quality of product?
Ryan Doherty answered
I always tell everyone, market demand is insatiable, and infinite. And we could continue to replace more markets without materials as we have more of it. And as it becomes more reliable, more people won’t be able to rely on it for their material needs. But as far as specs, like Deion Sanders, there’s some qualities of hamper that just can’t be quantified very easily. There’s varieties like dual purpose like a tune and stuff that have more of a straw like feel to it and some of the gin MAs and stuff that have a more hardy or what do you feel to it, and getting all those down Dialed In is gonna be tough. So people are gonna have to be like, like any company does brand new material and say, we got this variety, we process it this way. And we can consistently do that to this many acres and, and people will have their own, reputations as companies as processors do. But I think that I’m like I said, I’m on the board of the USHPA. Trying to push for just that agenda. Right now. We’re putting out a test, like code like a standard procedure for doing these tests. So hopefully, we get that standard procedure to universities and labs that herd producers could send a one pound sample instead of to everyone they could send one to one of these labs and they could get the stamp of approval that says, As long as the rest of the hurd looks like a hurd sent.
- Is this similar to a checkoff program like wool is run through a similar Checkoff Program to get a greater quality?
It’ll take a lot longer for the type the USDA is working on and we are setting up a site we’re working on those programs with USDA as well, that’s more on fiber, they’re more focused on fiber. There’s not as much hurd interest when these kinds of commodity market people have heard that I’ve seen yet. Because there’s not a specific market hertz used in so many markets like animal bedding and stuff like that. But that is something we got to self regulate ourselves to, to hopefully push the market to be more reliable. But that is hopefully, on its way do we hope to just put out that testing method, and then let the market say What caste in place and block and spray ideal ranges are. And then we can just give the test out for free or to these places. And when they charge whatever they charge for Tesco for like 10 $20 or something like that. And then you get a sticker or something that says data is king.
- We help our industry, the more we’re able to collect and pull together the consistent data on these different hierarchies. I’ve been interested in collaborating and looking into something like this, especially as we’re doing national fiber trials right and wanting to see at each phase what the hurd and fiber ratios are. And content is across the nation where it changes where we’re getting best results with different genetics. I think it feeds into what you just said. And so I’d love to look at where we can collaborate on data for that.
Ryan Doherty answered
Yeah, happy to help on that too. I did one of those just last year, we collected crops from several states and I hand processed them all here down in southern Colorado and did all that now by reverse. Here you’re gonna have to do the hand processing and stalks.. But that’s a fun job. But yeah, all this sounds excellent. Definitely. Critical.
- Do you have anything you want to add to that?
Dion Lefebvre answered
I should just add that we’re kind of looking at either builders or processors for affiliate platforms, ideally, we want to have production very close to their source. So it’s something that I think processors should look at as a value add to their supply chain. So like I say, it all depends on the end result and sales. That’s the bottom line with things. If the consumer is going to demand it, we’re going to be able to produce it. So I want to keep those communication lines open and just say we’re here to explore options with you guys.
- What will be the first step in order to develop hempcrete? What do you think is going to be the way that we can start building a hemp business in a new industry, new business in a new area?
Dion Lefebvre answered
It takes time and patience and dedication, there’s so many moving parts that almost have to grow together. No farmer is going to plant seeds, unless he’s got a sale for his raw material, no processor is going to build a processor unless he’s got material to move through the processor. And no industry is going to get started unless we have both of those. So, I think it’s working with the full chain to develop it simultaneously. So having a farmer that’s willing to take some risks and plant some seeds and a processor that’s going to say, hey, we want to go small scale, we want to just get our feet wet, and get familiar with plants and what the needs are in processing. And then, of course, that proof of concept for the end result, having somebody that wants to build a house, you gotta have that investment, if you will, is really what it boils down to. So I think that the industry almost has to grow together, make friends with your farmer, make friends with your builders, and talk about all the many benefits that hempcrete has. It’s very attractive, it sells itself, when people see all the things that hempcrete can do and how it performs and interacts with us. It’s a no brainer. It’s just a matter of getting that cost down through precast elements, rather than cast in place, which can be very time consuming, labor intensive. It’s about advancing all aspects of the industry. So we can compete with other industries that have had hundreds of years to develop. So there’s patients, yeah, it’s not it, I think fiber is the breadbasket of the industry. There’s been kind of a gold rush in the CBD market, and even the cannabis market, but when we see the value of what the fiber can do to our daily lives, I think that’s what’s really going to be the bread and butter of our industry.
- Bill Althouse asked a question and said. I went booth to booth and asked a question, what is legitimization media? Legalization was one step. And that was a big one. That was to get the right to make products now, we have to make products and legitimize in the eyes and minds of people who aren’t hemp supporters. So it was the same thing with grant writers and everything else. Our challenge is to drop a hemp from our minds entirely and not even think about it. What market? Or what grant or are you trying to reach? And what they want to see is the only thing that matters, whether you’re writing a grant or you’re trying to tap into a market. So take ASTM, for example. If you want to be a fiber, or you want to be an insulation or a structural material, what does that look like to get hemp out of your mind? And if you want to be an insulation, what does that mean? What did every insulation manufacturer in the country have to do to be recognized as an insulation? And that’s what everybody needs to focus on and get out of their minds. And look at what penetrating a market looks generically in the minds who specify the materials because until the people who buy materials and specify those materials are convinced that we meet all rules, regs, specs and do so with higher performance at a lower price. We’re not going to get mass adoption in any markets now. I wanted to highlight Jason from beston technique, Canada wasn’t there. I was really looking forward to meeting him because he’s my poster child right now of what penetrating the market through legitimization means looks like they walked in to seal nine ASTM, which are all concrete products, through their material on the table and said they were concrete reinforcement. And they were dealt with that way. And they proved that their material works better per ASTM testing of the seal nine section better than other available materials. The word has never come up.
Mandi Lynn Kerr answered
Well, eventually I have a love-hate relationship with that statement. Because I’m also passionate about the whole picture that hemp provides. But I’m with you, there’s still this stigma, or this myth, that some of the industry has missed selling the capabilities of hemp as well. But Building Material Code is Building Material Code. And as long as we meet those specs, we’re able to move products in material.
- About the time frame at which some of the specs or standards right will potentially change through ASTM is what I hear because of the additional quality that hemp has as a hemp installation versus installation, what’s the timeframe for that to happen?
Bill Althouse answered
Security tests that haven’t been done. Okay, that’s the first step, see what the result is. The scientific method is the process of getting it done wrong out of the way, test the mix, if you don’t like the number, change the mix and try again and try again. Now, hey, there is a product that’s been approved, it passed ASTM C 5108. It’s approved as insulation and has a certified R value. That’s the hampered textures, bad product. However, they can only meet code, they can’t beat code, because it’s bad. So you’re really limited the performance, you can get out of a bad type installation, it’s better never used in high performance houses
- Where gonna see new products come on board that are not quality that we don’t have existing already.
Bill Althouse answered
So the performance of a building, that’s building science, that’s ASTM E oh six, I’m on that committee too and that’s the final performance. And so C 16 insulation is just the performance of the insulation in isolation. And then iOS six is the performance of the building at the completion of construction, which is a whole different matter. And that’s, that’s how we find out bats don’t work very well. Because if you project the value on the bat, and then you analyze the energy consumption, post construction, you didn’t achieve anywhere near what the rating on that bat says, and that’s installation quality more than anything else. But still I, the major point here is the people who buy products have to be convinced based on price and performance. And once we can do that, we don’t have to mention the attempt anymore. And we become legitimate in the eyes of the industries we target. Textiles. Another big one that was very problematic was fiber. And right now we, d 13 is all natural synthetic fibers and hemp can’t go there. Because no one yet produces a hemp fiber that meets the specs of a fiber. If there’s a molecule of lignin on that fiber, it’s not a fiber. So this is a real challenge for industries to know where we have to go to be successful. And then we can talk about supply chains and value chains and how to meet that specification. But you gotta start with what you have to be to get someone in an industry to buy your product first, and then work back. And it’s the same thing with grants. Either with some great meetings with some people writing grants you gotta get out of your mind where you want to go and create an outline of what the grantor wants to see. And they give you line by line what the scoring criterion is and you create a generic representation of the grants, goals, Mission metrics, and then you come back and fill in with what you’re doing. And it’s the same for any material product, you can easily define where you must, what you must do to get the money to get the purchase to get the grant.
- Maybe sometimes we do Q and A. And let’s talk some of this about some of the tools that might be available that you’re aware of, because I think the topics come up a lot and I would be awesome to be able to present. Here’s how and where we go to find some of this information. I don’t know if you’d be open to doing that with us sometime.
Bill Althouse replied
I’m collecting data at the end of this after my walk around the floor of asking but legitimate, more said, We got to deal next year. Morris booked a section on legitimization next year. Awesome. So working on creating that platform of information that we can share. And so yeah, collecting and working with everybody in industry now to figure out the elements of legitimization. So we can present it as a step by step process next year.
- Do you have anything you want to add?
Dion Lefebvre answered
I think, too, there’s an element that maybe is overlooked there. price and performance does definitely factor in performance. Predominantly, the conscious consumer is concerned about what their materials are made out of. So the carbon energy carbon footprint put into that does factor in as well.
- Have you ever used cannabinoid hemp hurd? We grew monsters last year in a CBG crop and had a lot of material at the end of harvest?
Dion Lefebvre answered
The big thing with cannabinoid type stock is it’s not growing in size, it’s growing further business, so you’re going to get a lot of smaller fibers, you’re not going to get the long strain fiber for decortication. But there are advantages. It’s a very similar cell structure to the hemp plant. It’s cannabis. So cannabis is cannabis. So I mean, yeah, you could use it but you’re not going to get a lot of it, it would probably be a waste. I guess you’re not going to get a lot of that real stock you woody core of the plant. But the cellulose structure is very similar. I have used some in r&d and have performed very well.
- Through your processing equipment, the concern for decortication on the CBD crop because of where the notice or the the branches and it affecting the cleanliness or the quality of the herd or decorticated material. What is some? Something you guys have heard? Is that the same with your equipment? Does it matter that it’s the CBD versus the grown for fiber production?
Ryan Doherty replied
I would say I’ve ran lots of CBD and cannabis varieties like Dion was saying you’re planting for a high floral capacity you’re getting like five to 7000 plants an acre when you’re planting for fiber, you’re planting 50 pounds an acre and getting more like a million plants and so the weight the biomass, just it doesn’t make economic sense to collect these hard stocks. Also, when people dry their flour, often on the branches that act by pulling out like the wet stock and then bringing it somewhere drying, drying the hurt and fiber together like that and not leaving the field to have any reading action like solidifies the fiber to the herd. And so most y applications you want to use the stock for requires the separation of the hurt and fiber there are some people that claim they have like liquid decorticated ways to dissolve all the material even the dissolution processes that we were looking to work with, you still need to separate the fiber from the hurt as they’re made up of very different components. And then again, some people have technologies that can just mill the crap out of it really fast but you have so much like you’re saying the nodes are a lot of will bring lateral branching, that there’s so many like little tiny stocks that aren’t even really heard and fiber at someone’s just like a branch like a stick. And so there’s not much material in there and they kind of turn to dust. So that is I wouldn’t I wouldn’t advise building a business plan but that all said there is dual purpose applications that they have genetic varieties that have more of a single stock that has one you Big ball in the top that’s how much most acres in like the Netherlands where they are really struggling to find more acres we’re blessed here with all of our open land but in some places where they have to make every acre really count like companies like don’t agro grow dual purpose with a dual purpose header harvester and they get grain for old material and fiber and are able to market and brand all of it and but they’ve been at it for a lot longer and had the opportunity to really hone those processes in so it’s not unfeasible. But when grown for true Max flower production, that material is not very usable.
Dion Lefebvre answered
Also going to add a lot of CBD or crab noise or pull precede development, which doesn’t give that stock full maturity. So it just depends on the farmer’s practices and what they’re extracting for but I find typically CBD strains are varieties that have been grown specifically for CBD and have more of a grassier core rather than a woody core.
- I want to know if your processing is affected, I guess the quality of my end product regardless of how much of it you get, say I bring you a million pounds of biomass. Well, that end product decorticated The same no matter if it’s CBD or fiber, as far as quality or separating those nodes
Ryan Doherty said
It won’t all be the same. I mean, there’s been companies that have set up fiber processing that have grown, try crops and have ran into those issues, there are different especially, I mean, particularly the biggest type of processing on the market right now is roller breaker systems, that’s like your camera systems, your fiber Trek 660. They’re all using roller breakers, which almost require a round bale because you need the stock material to be oriented or you have to harvest it like really old style like in in bundles, to keep it all it linear oriented, because you have to feed it into a pretty small aperture to where the material is actually getting processed. And you’re relying on that crushing action. So we’re people pioneering different methods so that the material can be moved a lot quicker and different types of liberation or decortication. But right now, we’re relying on those types of systems, you’re relying on mechanical just crushing action, which especially with random oriented CBD, stocks will not work out. But yeah, that’s definitely different outputs for sure.
- Ron Roark said since my background is marketing, and kind of making things accessible to the public, I’m really interested in making sure that trying to get hemp to the max, that’s where they understand the value of it. And so I’m just curious, I’ve seen a lot of tools, and there’s just a lot and I’m trying to get recommendations on if there are any, just good tools for light for ticks to communicate people in layman’s terms
Dion Lefebvre answered
There’s some great books out there about hemp construction. There’s some old school books out there, the Emperor wears no clothes, there’s some real classics and has been around for a long time. So there are a lot of great books and resources, to expand horizons and outlooks on him. As far as the hemp building, Chris mag Woods got a great one up here in Canada building with him. Alex PF has the hempcrete handbook, I believe it is out of the UK. Steve Allen’s got some great literature. And those roles. Some they’re they’re staples in my library. So there are my first houses in the center for the mag as books, so I like to pull that one out. But yeah, there’s some great literature. The more people explore it, the more they know that this is not just a hippie plant. This is a real industry.
- Is there anything we can do for you? What is it that we as a collective group can really do to move your company forward that maybe someone on this call has a connection or tools for you?
I think just sharing the successes of the Vita as a growers, we’ve got some projects down in the US and in Canada, and we’re going for all the certifications through ASTM. So it’s about sharing that up option that’s on the table.It’s not the perfect medium for him pre building, but it’s definitely the perfect one for a lot of projects. So I love all the different modalities and all the different mediums that builders are using. There’s a time and a place for everything and precast is the solution for a lot of very specific issues, especially with commercial construction.