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Hemp Biofuels Have The Potential To Replace Fossil Fuels

Leslie kahn


The burning of fossil fuels plays a big role in spewing large amounts of CO2 into the environment which is wreaking havoc on the planet. Switching entirely to renewable energy sources is essential for our survival. In this article I will discuss the energy potential of hemp biofuel, some biodiesel facts, the different types of hemp biofuel and how they are made, and cite a study about hemp biogas.

We have had the technology to make and use biofuel for over a century. Biofuel uses feedstock, plants and other organic matter and is a renewable energy source. In order to hit the biofuel output guidelines by 2030 for sustainable growth set by the International Energy Agency, current biofuel output needs to triple. 

History of Vegetable Biodiesel

Dr. Rudolf Diesel developed the first diesel engine to run on vegetable oil in 1895. His first engine, using peanut oil, appeared at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris.
FYI: Henry Ford built his first cars to run on biodiesel

Hemp biodiesel is made by extracting the oil through the pressing of hemp seeds.

Hemp As An Effective Biofuel

Crops such as wheat, barley and corn have been used to make ethanol. However, there are different processes of fermentation available to turn hemp into ethanol. It makes much more sense to use non-food sources such as hemp to make fuel. Not only that, but hemp grows well in lesser quality soil conditions when compared to wheat and corn. Hemp bioethanol is also safer to transport, similar to biodiesel.

Hemp Biofuel Energy Potential

1. Hemp is ready to harvest in only 4 months
2. Hemp attracts relatively few insect pests, so lesser amounts of pesticides are required.
3. Hemp is highly resistant to fungal diseases
4. Hemp can grow taller than weeds
5. Hemp requires less fertilizers for growth
6. Hemp fuel yield is 207 gallons per hectare. This is four times higher than soybeans which have also been used as a biofuel crop
7. Hemp biodiesel may be a carbon-neutral replacement for diesel
8. Hemp ingests a much higher rate of CO2 than trees 

More Biodiesel Facts

  • It can be stored anywhere petroleum diesel fuel is stored
  • It has powered vehicles for over 30 million road miles in the US
  • It has been used for over 20 years in Europe
  • The exhaust odor smells of hemp, popcorn or french fries
  • Because it is more lubricating than petroleum diesel, biodiesel can extend the life expectancy of diesel engines. Its fuel consumption, power output, auto ignition and engine torque are similar to that of petroleum diesel.
  • It has been tested under the Clean Air Act and found to meet the standards
  • Several government agencies including the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have concluded that it meets the requirements of the Energy Policy Act as a low cost alternative fuel source for their fleets of vehicles.

Hemp Ethanol

The process of celluloysis is required to make hemp ethanol. This involves several stages:

  • Cellulose content must be pre-treated to make it hydrolysis compatible
  • The molecules are broken down into sugars using the enzyme cellulase
  • Sugars are separated from the lignin, responsible for the rigidity and woodiness of cell walls
  • Sugar fermentation
  • Ethanol distillation
  • The concentration of ethanol is increased through the use of molecular sieves

According to biofuel expert Tim Castleman, the US can produce hemp ethanol, made from the entire plant, for $1.37 /gal plus the cost of feed. If you add in tax credits and technology improvements, you are looking at a reduction of about another $1.

Hemp Methanol

It is produced from the woody, pulpy matter of the hemp plant. Dry distillation is the process that creates methanol from hemp. It involves heating the hemp material into a gas which may condense into a liquid or into a charcoal, its solid form. It may or may not include pyrolysis which involves heating the hemp material at high temperatures without using oxygen to avoid combustion. 

Hemp Solid Fuel

One of the most promising hemp solid biofuels is hemp pellets which come from the woody core of the plant. Hemp pellets produce similar amounts of heat and similar levels of ash, but aren’t corrosive, making them an excellent alternative to wood. 

Hemp Biogas

  • Methane is closely related to methanol
  • A Biodigester, which is like a mechanical stomach, creates methane by providing optimum anaerobic conditions which act on the hemp material to capture the gas. 

A 2010 Swedish study, which appeared in Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 35, Issue 2 in February 2011, determined that hemp biogas was a high yield alternative to ethanol from wheat and hemp biodiesel from rapeseed. In addition, the waste product may be used as a fertilizer.

Study Abstract
1. The gross methane energy yield per hectare from anaerobic digestion of industrial hemp was evaluated at four different harvest times from July to October in Southern Sweden, which is a cold climate area.
2. The biomass yield was documented for three years and the methane yield for two years by using the biochemical potential test.
3. During September or October, the highest biomass yield and methane energy yield were realized.

If we want to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren, it is time to replace fossil fuels with a renewable energy source such as hemp.

Sources:
marijuanabreak.com, Hemp Biofuels: Hemp’s Energy Potential, updated March 3, 2020. 
achnews.org, Hemp Ethanol Is About Five Times Cheaper Than Gasoline, Annie Kin, Aug. 2, 2019
ihempx.com, Hemp As Fuel: Biodiesel, Ethanol, Methanol, May 29, 2019
hempgazette.com, Industrial Hemp’s Energy Potential-Biofuels