Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269

Flax and hemp fibres as raw materials for thermal insulations
Hanna-Riitta KymalainenÃ, Anna-Maija Sjoberg ¨ ¨ ¨
University of Helsinki, Department of Agrotechnology, P.O. Box 28, FI-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland Received 26 January 2006; received in revised form 9 February 2007; accepted 9 March 2007

Abstract Bast fibres of, for example, flax and hemp are used as raw materials of thermal insulations. However, they have only a minor share in the market. The aim of this paper was to evaluate the suitability of bast fibres of flax and hemp for thermal insulations. The functions and requirements of the bast fibrous insulations and their combustion resistance are discussed. Thermal conductivity and the effects of several parameters on thermal performance are reviewed. The potential and costs of the raw material and quality and ecological aspects are also discussed. Finally, needs for future research is proposed. r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Flax; Hemp; Fibre; Thermal insulations

1. Introduction Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) and hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) are annual bast fibre plants, the stems of which consist of surface layers, a bark layer with 20–50 bast fibre bundles, and a woody core with a central lumen. Bast fibres are used as raw materials of thermal insulations. The sawdust-like shive that is produced from the core of the stems has been used as a thermal insulation at least in old buildings. However, this review concentrates mainly on the bast fibres. There is increasing interest in ecological values and renewable materials, and products are increasingly chosen on the basis of their quality merits, including environmental quality [1]. The use of natural fibres in insulation is closely linked to the ecological building sector [2], where selection of materials is based on factors including recyclable, renewable raw materials and lowresource production techniques. Furthermore, cellulosic insulations have a higher moisture regain than inorganic materials, and therefore only cellulosic materials are recommended for old timbered houses [3,4]. Tow of flax and hemp fibres has traditionally been used in insulation tapes between timbers, but during the past decade several
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types of mats and loose-fill insulations have been developed into commercial products. Loose-fill insulations and insulation sheets of different thickness are also produced for insulation of modern houses. Despite their historical background, flax and hemp insulations are often considered as new materials in the field of insulations. In 2001, France and Germany were the biggest producers of hemp insulations in Europe, where approximately 1500 ha of hemp were grown for this purpose. Bast fibre insulations nowadays represent only a very minor part of the insulation market throughout Europe (e.g. o0.5% in Germany) [5]. One reason for the relatively low utilisation is the approximately two-fold higher price of bast fibre insulations compared to, for example, the price of mineral wool. On the other hand, typical positive, although not always approved arguments for these insulations are their ecological properties, e.g. low energy demand in production, potential for recycling and positive effect on indoor air [5,6]. Examples of list prices of thermal insulations are presented in Table 1. However, the prices should be regarded only as tentative, because they vary in different countries and even within one country, and in many cases bulk discounts are given. Considerable data is available concerning the technical properties of conventional insulations, whereas data for cellulosic insulations has typically been given only for cellulose as a generic material [7,8] or for specific types of

18].20 5.4 to 1. Sjo ¨ ¨ ¨berg / Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269 Table 1 Variation ranges of list prices of a packet (2. A mass fraction of approximately 20% of chemicals is added to cellulose to provide flame retardance [19].ARTICLE IN PRESS 1262 H. The aim of this mark is to guarantee both technical and ecological performance for several building materials. approximately 327. Flax ranges in height from 0. 2. Discussion 3. with an increase in recent years. the amount of separated fibre. Thermal performance Bast fibres. from many European domestic sources is low compared to the potential needs of production. based mainly on the life-cycle approach [15]. cellulosic materials themselves are not fire resistant. Bast fibres can fulfil the main function of the insulation because of their porous structure and the low bulk density of the fibre conglomerate. However.000 ha of linseed. energy consumption of manufacturing and packaging. and information on processing. the fire resistance of flax insulations was similar to that of insulations made of recycled paper.90–14. cellulosic materials such as wood or recycled paper [9–11].2. restrictions of impurities and untypical fibres.90–7. In insulations made from hemp shives. The main production areas of linseed are the Far East and Canada [25].3. Kymalainen. However. the growing areas of flax and fibre hemp are nowadays small compared to the 19th and early 20th centuries [23.60–10.80–15. Potential and cost of the raw material Flax and hemp can be grown in temperate climates and they require relatively low input to give high yields [21]. 2. especially bast fibrous insulations The criteria or functions and quality properties of insulations are regulated by legislation.-M. The thermal conductivity of insulations made of bast fibres is compatible with that of conventional insulations. requirements for renewable raw materials.2 to 5 m [22].95–5. the ‘‘Natureplus’’ mark offers a good collection of criteria that well define different features of the insulations. The relationship between density and k is not linear and it varies between different studies.80 Flax Glass Stone Cellulose (wood fibre) 9. The worldwide growing area of the oil seed plant linseed is greater than the growing areas of the fibre plants flax and hemp.g. Combustion resistance Fire resistance is an important property of thermal insulations.65 m2) of 100 mm thick thermal insulation sheet Fibre raw material of insulation Price (eur/m2) Oct. which are in fact fibre bundles.1. [14]. Numerous criteria and measurements of both the raw materials and the insulation are required for obtaining this quality mark. corrected from [99] with the building cost index (6.30 8. declaration of input materials. 3. smouldering was a risk of cellulose insulation compared to glass wool. each contain 10–40 single cells or elementary fibres. However. The criteria are also directed by environmental labels and declarations. Requirements of the insulations. The elementary fibres (single cells) of flax and hemp consist of layers and there is a .1.50–7.000 ha of flax and 29. Furthermore. for which several internationally applicable standards have been developed [11].90 9. for example. Due to their chemical composition. in relation to bulk density (Table 2). The porous structure of the bast fibres makes them suitable for thermal insulations. 2. and a mass fraction of 13% of boric compounds was needed in the flax and paper insulations to prevent smouldering. including thermal insulations made from flax and hemp. in various Finnish shops [99] Feb. e.70 4.00 4.40 5. These criteria include.40–8.00–8. different varieties of flax have been developed for production of fibre and oilseed. 323.30–11. In a study by Kauriinvaha et al. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the suitability of bast fibres of flax and hemp for thermal insulations. due to presence of large shive ships. smouldering occurred even with a mass fraction of 25% of boric compounds. A. and emissions of VOCs and formaldehyde are given.12–14]. A European quality mark ‘‘Natureplus’’ has been developed for building materials in Germany [16].24]. 2007.5 m [18] and hemp from 1.-R. The bast fibre plants offer one alternative to agricultural production.80 lumen inside the cell [17. A single stem includes 20–50 fibre bundles. In principle. Flax and hemp fibres as raw material for thermal insulations 2. 1. pesticide residues. As can be seen in Fig. In a study by Kokkala [20]. By breeding.4% increase per year) 10. where the need to find non-food plants as alternatives for food plants is under discussion. In Europe. The yield of bast fibres of flax was approximately 600–900 kg/ha and of hemp approximately 1050 kg/ha in a study by Pasila [26]. The quality parameters affecting the thermal conductivity of bast fibrous insulations are discussed in the following section. especially those made of cellulosic fibres. the variation between the k values of all insulations varies. the thermal performance of bast fibres has been investigated and confirmed generally as competitive with conventional insulations in some studies [2. 2005.000 ha of fibre hemp were cultivated in 2004. leading to trapping of a large amount of air between the fibres in the insulation.

035–0. microbiological contamination and costs caused by retting [28–30]. Canada and USA in 1995–2004 (thousand ha). Fibre raw material Flax Flax Flax Flax and hemp Flax and hemp Flax and hemp Hemp. Properties of unretted fibres have been investigated in order to obtain alternatives for retted fibres.082 0. the literature concerning these matters is complex and the dimension and composition data have been derived from several sources. A. not provided. 10 1 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 Flax Europe Flax Far East Flax Russian Federation Linseed Canada Linseed Europe Linseed Far East Linseed Russian Federation Linseed USA Hemp Europe Hemp Far East Hemp Russian Federation Fig.-M.049 0. which makes the use of many of the retting methods uneconomical [27]. As can be seen in Table 5.041 0. as can be seen in Table 6.ARTICLE IN PRESS H. The agricultural background affects the logistics of the production of insulations. the effect of moisture on microbiological quality must be taken into consideration. 3.071 0. Area data of linseed for Russia and a few minor producing countries relate to crops grown for both seed and fibre. the Far East. However. There are clear differences between fibres retted in different harvest times [27]. Kymalainen.044–0. Theoretically. fractionation or alternation of atmospheric conditions affects the functions of the insulation (Table 6). The cost of the fibre used for insulation must be relatively low. Harvesting takes place once a year.037–0.050 0.050 0.033 0.045 0.046 0. the disadvantages of which are. Harvested areas of flax.038–0.040–0. variation of these plant features during the growing season or as a consequence of retting. In order to obtain the bast fibre.040–0.094 0. the Russian Federation. retted Hemp. frost-retted Hemp Glass wool Glass wool Stone wool (mineral wool) Stone wool (mineral wool) Stone wool Cellulose Cellulose (recycled paper) Cellulose (wood fibre) Bulk density (kg/m3) — 5–50 20–100 25–40 39 19 5–50 5–50 25–100 20–45 20–50 18–50 5–50 15–300 30–60 30–45 30 30–60 k (or l) (W/m K) 0. only a few studies are available (Table 7) concerning the relationship between the quality variation of bast fibres and properties of insulations.040–0. linseed and fibre hemp in Europe. the structure of the plant leads to a need for special separation techniques based on mechanical. 1.050 0. The total yield of fibres should last for the production of the whole year before the next harvesting.035–0.040 0. the typical quality measures (Tables 4 and 5) are insufficient to define the quality of those fibres used for thermal insulations: for example.075 0. after which the stems are stored and processed.2. biochemical and microbiological .050 References [12] [13] [51] [2] [14] [14] [13] [13] [14] [51] [2] [52] [13] [53] [52] [53] [54] [52] 1263 thousand ha 10000 1000 100 methods.040–0. Furthermore.-R.041–0. green Hemp. Data of flax and hemp refer generally to scutched and hackled fibre and include tow [25]. Quality The typical quality properties of the bast fibres (Tables 3 and 4) are related to the morphological structure and chemical composition (Table 5) of the plant fractions used as raw materials for insulations.060 o0. In regions where there is marked variation in outdoor temperature and relative humidity of air during the year.060 0.050 0. Sjo ¨ ¨ ¨berg / Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269 Table 2 Variation ranges of thermal conductivity k (or l) of fibrous thermal insulations at different variation ranges of densities Type of insulation — Mat — — Mat Mat Mat Mat Loose-fill — — — Mat — — — Loose-fill — —.050 0.

in a study by Breum et al. with stone wool in between.62.63] [55.38. lustre References [55–62] [56] [61. length. endotoxins [42].60.75] [29] [29. diameter). [14]. increases the nutrient level of the insulation and thus promotes moulding. bast fibres themselves are not resistant to microbes [32. In a study by Hansen and Bunch-Nielsen [37]. Moulding may lead to emissions to air [35]. which has been evaluated to be their most important competitive advantage [47]. e.56.-M. biological [48.58. Synthetic binders may not be biodegradable. length. The variation of length. installation. DP. DP Strength. These are lipopolysaccharides that have strong biological effects in humans [43].64–67.60. shown in the present study.69. in a study by Kauriinvaha et al. and their results are not unambiguous.64–66. fibre freeness. caustic loss. quality of retting References [60.69.58. Correspondingly. However. The VOC emissions of thermal insulations made of flax and hemp fibres were rather similar to those of inorganic insulations in a study by Koivula et al. The CO2 emissions were 1200 g/kg stone wool. moulded insulation.3. 629 g/kg paper wool and 1700 g/kg flax insulation.e. and they will probably be prohibited in the Ecological information during the life-cycle of the insulation includes ecological indicators. In their study. tenacity. The life-cycle studies give tentative results.64] [14.65. However. The total energy consumption was 18 MJ/kg stone wool. and emissions to water. elongation Fineness Dimensions (i. shive content Homogeneity Colour. This will evidently lead to the need to use a great amount of additives in the insulation. 3. the capillarity of glass and rock wool insulations was relatively low.e. may allow the fibres to settle evenly in the insulation [27].67] ‘‘Natureplus’’ quality mark [38]. air and soil [45]. these impacts were also derived from life-cycle assessment and included. In a study by Behring and Murphy [50] using life-cycle assessment.35] and the use of organic binders.49]. i.71] [61] [14.56. an insulation based on flax fibre was ranked more ecological compared to glass wool when energy demands and environmental emissions were included in the calculations.g.59.60. Kymalainen. renewable or non-renewable energy sources and resources. Resistance to microbes is also required in the ‘‘Natureplus’’ quality mark [39. In their study.. On the other hand. In addition. Thermal insulations based on agro-based fibres are often considered implicitly as ecological. Moisture reduces the thermal performance of any thermal insulation. the primary energy consumption was calculated to be 1077 MJ/m3 for glass wool and 511 MJ/m3 for flax insulation.73] [70] [66. Ecological aspects Table 4 Examples of quality properties of bast fibre of hemp (may refer to fibre bundles or elementary fibre cells) Quality property Chemical composition. i. further deterioration may occur during storage [76]. [35]. acidification. e. diameter). toxicological impacts in the working environment and impacts on local ecosystems. only a few studies have focused on the ecological performance of insulations.e.e.34.g.-R. measured with a similar method as in the present study. recycling and disposal of the product [19. Unless the stems are collected dry enough to prevent microbial action.62. but due to several different . [44] endotoxin exposure varied greatly between two commercial flax insulations. The thermal conductivity of inorganic inculators increases when their moisture content increases [36] and we can argue the same for cellulosic insulations. fluidity Ash Moisture absorption Strength. because there is a natural microbial flora in bast fibres [41]. Sjo ¨ ¨ ¨berg / Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269 Table 3 Examples of quality properties of bast fibre of Linum (referring to long or short fibres and fibre bundles or elementary fibre cells) Quality property Chemical composition. photooxidation creation potential.55. biogenic [13].ARTICLE IN PRESS 1264 H. starch.40]. In addition to microbes.72. elongation Fineness Bulk density Dimensions (i. amount and morphology of fibre bundles and individual fibrils Freedom from impurities Evenness. thus decreasing air permeability. for example.74] [29.58–69] [55.75] [29] [76] the moisture content of the stems or of the raw material produced from the plants is one of the most critical factors for achieving materials of acceptable quality [27]. The ecological image is also seen in the nomenclature used for organic insulations. causing altered dimensions and chemical composition by removing constituents [31] and possibly moulding in humid conditions [32–34]. which is further promoted by drying of the moist.24] and eco-insulations [24]. alternative [5. in a study by Schmidt et al.29. operative tasks affecting the ecological performance include packaging. amount and morphology of fibre bundles and individual fibrils Microbiological resistance Freedom from impurities (other parts of stem than fibre). the CO2 emissions were calculated to be 68 g/m3 for glass wool and 43 g/m3 for flax in their study. tenacity.59.56.59. the capillarity of bast fibrous insulations was two. A.70] [61. global warming. leading to reduced thermal performance. As an example of emissions.46]. 21 MJ/kg paper wool and 40 MJ/kg flax insulation. in one case being similar to other fibrous materials and in the other significantly higher. [49] paper wool had the lowest and flax the highest global and regional environmental ninefold that of mineral wool.61. flax has been found to contain other contaminants.. eutrophication.

54–62 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Fibre** — — 67 — — 60–67 — — 4 3 — — — 3–14 — — — 16 — — — — 1. i.3 0. etc. mature Cellulose — — — 60 — — — — — — — 27 — — — — — — — 7 — — — 3. ***Depends on the retting degree.g. *The variation interval refers to the change of chemical composition due to changes in the maturity of the stem. several quality properties . Concerning the environmental impacts of thermal insulations. unretted 63 — 57 — — — — 3 3 3 2–5*** — — — — 17 — 15 — — 4.7 1. [49]. on the other hand.8 ***** Fibre hemp Stem* — — — — — — Approx. Information concerning materials is sometimes presented as an ecological parameter.5 — — — Shive — — — — 40–46 36–47 — — — — — 23–28 24–30 — — — — 25–26 — — — — — — — — 1. insulations will save over one hundred times the impacts from production and disposal. after which the use of synthetic fibre may be prohibited. For example. In addition to technical performance of the insulations.0 3. when focusing on the choice of insulations for buildings. a declaration of use of pesticides must be provided [38]. In the ‘‘Natureplus’’ mark. in the ‘‘Natureplus’’ mark [38].5–1.0 — — — — — — Fibre. Use of some input materials may be limited or not permitted and records to provide proof of origin of the flax and hemp raw material must be kept. there is no available separate data for unretted and retted fibre. *****Autumn harvested.) there is no simple way to interpret their results. exclusions of the model.4***** [77] [18] [78] [23] [79] [80] [81] [77] [18] [78] [57] [23] [79] [82] [81] [77] [18] [78] [79] [23] [77] [18] [78] [23] [77] [18] [78] [79] [26] [26] References 1265 Lignin Hemi-cellulose Pectin Fat and wax —.4.e. the attractiveness of different types of insulations for purchasers is a key issue for the success of insulations on the market. Development potential and needs for research in the future The present paper focuses on technical properties of fibres.-M.5–1. not provided. However. After 2005. assumptions in the models (e.3–1. A. ****Spring harvested. According to Schmidt et al. cultivation methods.0**** 0.3 — — — Fibre.8 — 1.5 1.8 — 1.4 — 1. irrespectively of the material used. a typical hemp insulation mat contains approximately 15% synthetic fibres [5]. and the use of synthetic support fibre up to a maximum of 15% until the end of 2005. Kymalainen.2 — 3. **For hemp. energy sources. Sjo ¨ ¨ ¨berg / Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269 Table 5 The main chemical components of the stem. retted 71 65 64 — — — — 2 3 2 — — — — — 19 16 17 — — 2. it has been argued that the use of thermal insulations implicitly yields environmental benefits because of the saving of heating energy in buildings [9].-R. the proportion of renewable raw materials must be at least 85%. 3.5–0.2–1.0 1. 59–67 — — — — — — Approx.0 — — — 0.7 — — — Shive — — — — — 40–52 — — — — — — 22–30 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — 0.. fibre and shive of Linum and fibre hemp (%) (% refers to mass fractions) Component Linum Stem. the material content of recovered (recycled) [19] or renewable material [38].6 **** 0.ARTICLE IN PRESS H.

96–98] affecting its practical functions also affect its success on the market via. biodegradability.87. impurities. additives. EMC. secondary and supportive functions Resistance to atmospheric and environmental stress Maintenance of any quality feature of the insulation à Modified from the ideas of Berglund [83.84] and Lucie-Smith [85]. To avoid the possible negative effects of moulding. construction of the building Material (appearance. temperature. hemp Cellulose Straw Glass and stone wool Cellulose Glass wool References Type of material (e.g. bast fibres as a natural resource have a risk for microbial and other contaminants.g.14] [86] [14] [2. densityà Settling (loose-fill insulations)à RH and/or temperature of air. more research concerning practical technological solutions to these aspects is needed. processing. In order to develop realistic practical applications. 4. dimensions. shive content Material of fibre. Table 7 Studies concerning the effects of various parameters on thermal properties of some fibrous insulations Parameters affecting thermal performance Studied insulation material Flax. Sjo ¨ ¨ ¨berg / Building and Environment 43 (2008) 1261–1269 Main function Purpose for which the product is primarily suited Secondary purpose of the insulation Secondary functions Attractiveness for purchasers and customer satisfaction Stability of main. EMC. reduction of the nutrition level of the bast fibres or restriction of RH below 80% is needed [27]. building and maintenance of buildings are required in order to avoid the risk of negative effects (i. amount and density of insulation. retting degree. Conclusions The bast fibres of flax and hemp are suitable for insulations due to their thermal properties and some ecological features. Acknowledgements We are grateful to the Academy of Finland (research programs ‘‘Ecological building materials’’ and ‘‘Sustainable Thickness. MC. additives. hemp Various plants. dimensions. dimensions. microbes H. energy consumption during production. constituents. i.92] [92] [13. convectionÃÃ) à Settling of loose-fill insulation and thickness of insulation are different views of the same phenomenon.. manufacturing.-M. Kymalainen. endotoxins. and their quality should be monitored regularly. capillarity Material of fibre. long term stability of the insulation Material of fibre. and there may be connections with the previous row ‘‘RH and/or temperature of air y’’. wetting. moulding) caused by moisture and free water. flame retardants. biodegradability. i. capillarity.14] [87] [86] [2.36. quality control must be adopted for the whole production chain of bast fibres. capillarity. hemp Cellulose Various plants and wood Glass and stone wool Wood Glass and stone wool Flax. ecological image and appearance (Table 6).ARTICLE IN PRESS 1266 Table 6 Functions of fibrous insulations Type of functionà Meaning of function Examples of typical functions of insulations Thermal performance (minimization of heat transfer) Fire performance Strength of insulation sheets Suitability of fibre for technological production Supportive functions Increases the value of the insulation but not essential for the main function Ecological performance (e.91. drying Air flow (i. emissions of production. binders. retting time) [12. density Material of fibre.93–96] [97] [95. energy savings) Ability to promote good indoor air Examples of quality parameters affecting the function Material of fibre. ecological image) of fibre. amount of shive. infiltration. retting degree. EMC. density. wood Recycled paper Flax. temperature cycling Material of fibre. amount of shive Material of fibre. free water.14] [91. dimensions. Furthermore.90] [13.e. wind.e. However.-R. density or fineness. A. hygienic quality. Ãà Convection is caused by temperature differences. Careful procedures during harvesting.e. . hygienic quality. increase of additives. To overcome the risk factors.88] [31] [89.e. product development of bast-fibrous thermal insulations and the use of additives are evidently needed in order to avoid negative effects on indoor air quality.

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