Why is hemp off the biofuel menu?
Why has hemp been ignored as a biofuel? Photograph: Corbis
The Royal Society, the European Commission and the UK government have all managed, in the last few days, to take the wind out of the sails of the biofuel industry, publishing reports that suggest biofuels could be causing more harm than good, the crops not being as environmentally friendly as first thought, with the Commons environmental audit committee calling for a moratorium on biofuel targets until more research can be done.
What struck me as astonishing about these reports is that they all managed to ignore the one crop which has been successfully used for many years to create bioethanol and biodiesel, is environmentally friendlier to produce than sugar beet, palm oil, corn or any of the crops mentioned in the report and can grow in practically any temperate to hot climate leaving the ground in better condition than when it was planted.
That plant is hemp.
Last year, the Conservative MP David Maclean tabled a question to the then environment secretary, Ian Pearson, asking what assessment had been made about the potential to grow hemp as a biofuel crop in England. Pearson responded:
So the government cannot point to ignorance of hemp’s uses, which makes hemp’s omission from any of the recent reports even more perplexing.
The fact that hemp does not need to have land cleared to grow it, grows faster than any of the crops currently used and leaves the ground in a better state when it is harvested should surely be enough for it to be considered a perfect crop to offset the carbon currently produced by fossil fuels and by the less efficient biofuels currently being so roundly criticised by the various official research bodies.
The influential Biodiesel magazine reported last year on the cultivation of hemp as a biofuel and it too could only point to its lack of economic competitiveness (due to its minimal production) as a reason for not seeing it as a viable biofuel. But surely if it was mass-produced, this one drawback could be overcome and its many benefits as an efficient biofuel could be harnessed.
As far as research and implementation of hemp for biofuel, the US is way ahead of Europe and there are a range of websites dedicated to the use of hemp as a fuel for cars.
In the UK, companies such as Hemp Global Solutions have been set up very much with climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions in mind, but there is little, if any, research in this country that has looked into the viability of the hemp plant as a fuel for cars.
So why was there not a single mention of this miracle crop, that, in addition to being able to be used as fuel, can also be used as paper, cloth, converted into plastic and is a rich food source containing high levels of protein?
<p>With recent reports downplaying the possibility of biofuels as a solution to climate change, <strong>Giulio Sica</strong> wonders why there has been no mention of hemp as an alternative crop</p>
Can Hemp Replace Fossil Fuel?
January 27, 2021
Fossil fuels provide roughly 80% of the energy required to power our modern world. But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Coal, gas, and oil have a limited supply. Due to the increasing demand for energy worldwide, supplies are predicted to run out within the next half-century. Along with this, the mining, drilling, and burning of fossil fuels are harming the environment — and our health. We must embrace a clean energy future and find sustainable fuel sources to solve the fuel problem. Research suggests that biofuel, more specifically, hemp biofuel, could be the answer.
How Hemp Biofuel Is Made
Biofuel involves the use of feedstocks, plant material, or other organic matter to create a renewable energy source. The major current biodiesel plants include soybeans, olives, peanuts, and grapeseed.
There are two types of biofuel: bioethanol, an alcohol made from the fermentation of carbohydrates in starch or sugar crops, including sugarcane and corn; and biodiesel, which is made from fats or oils via the process of transesterification.
Significantly, it is possible to create both biodiesel and bioethanol from hemp.
Biodiesel is primarily produced from hemp seed oil and is used in any conventional diesel engine. A 2010 University of Connecticut study found that the hemp biodiesel produced by its graduate students had a 97% conversion efficiency. According to Professor Richard Parnas, who led the study, those growing hemp could produce enough fuel to power their entire farm using hemp seed oil.
The rest of the plant is often used to produce ethanol or methanol. Occasionally referred to as “hempanol” or “hempoline,” this type of fuel is made through cellulolysis, which ferments and distills the hemp to extract the ethanol. On the other hand, methanol is produced from the woody pulp from the stalks of plants. Methanol created from hemp is prepared through a process of dry distillation.
The Environmental Benefits of Hemp Biofuel
Hemp biofuels could help lead the world to move away from its dependency on fossil fuels, providing a sustainable energy resource that is better for the planet in the following ways:
Hemp Filters CO2 from the Air
All plants work as a filter for the air — and the hemp plant is a very good filter. As a carbon-neutral resource, hemp ingests carbon dioxide (CO2) very quickly through the process of photosynthesis.
Hemp Cleans the Soil
Hemp may be used for bioremediation, a process that cleans up toxins in soil, including metals, pesticides, crude oil, and toxins in landfills. Farmers in other parts of the world use hemp to revive their fields. Hemp was used to remove radioactive agents from the ground following the radioactive disaster at Chernobyl.
Hemp Requires Less Fertilizer to Grow
Another benefit of using hemp compared to other food crops is that it can be grown on marginal lands — plus, it requires no pesticides or fertilizers and little water. Hemp returns about 70% of its required nutrients into the soil, which means this crop requires much less fertilizer to grow. Fewer fertilizers mean cleaner water supplies.
More Investment Is Required
While the 2018 Farm Bill allowed for industrial hemp cultivation and research, the infrastructure for producing hemp biofuels is not yet established. Hopefully, the end of industrial hemp prohibition in America will be the catalyst for a new hemp biofuel revolution.
An overview of how hemp fuel may be an alternative to toxic fossil fuels.