Hemp Biofuels to Save The World

(Photo via The Leaf Online)

As a previous post discussed, hemp is the term for cannabis that has been breed specifically for a high fiber content, seeds, or for other industrial purposes. The legal distinction in America for what qualifies as hemp is any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% THC. Recently the Hemp Industries Association, a national hemp lobbying group, issued a press release clarifying their position on what technically can be called hemp.

The HIA has raised a red flag on the Stanley Brothers in Colorado, and numerous others across the country, who are attempting to claim that any strain with less than o.3% THC is automatically hemp and the oil they produce is thus hemp oil. The HIA views this as misleading consumers, since hemp oil is a food product and these cannabis plants were not actually bred from hemp stock. The oil being sold is actually a hash oil and the word hemp is being used here purely as a marketing technique. This strategy is reminiscent of greenwashing, a technique where marketers make consumers believe something is more environmentally friendly than it is by using leading language.

Now that we have established that a full-plant extracted oil from the cannabis plant is hash oil, or maybe cannabis oil, but certainly is not hemp oil, let’s talk about what hemp oil really is and what it can be used for. Hemp oil, as mentioned above, is one of the most nutrient dense foods known to man, which is likely why humans have been cultivating this plant longer than any other plant we know of.

Hemp is also a very cellulose dense plant, with between 67-78% of the plant made of cellulose, compared to wood which has 40-50% and switchgrass which has a measly 37% cellulose. The cellulose content matters because the cellulose is what is made into biofuels. While alternative methods exist to make biofuels, such as converting sugars into fuel, the cellulose method appears to be more efficient, perhaps to where it actually can produce carbon neutral biofuels, unlike corn ethanol which has major human and environmental impacts. Cellulosic ethanol looks to be the most promising alternative fuel option out there but it will take significant amounts of money to bring it out of the laboratory and into the gas pumps.

There currently are three major schools and researchers who are looking into cellulosic ethanol, and specifically hemp biofuels. George Huber, at UMass Amherst and the University of Madison, developed a method several years ago to fast convert cellulose into a fuel at very low cost, he is now working to bring this technology to the public through the Huber Biofuel Research Group.

Professor Huber has worked personally with Bruce Dale over at Michigan State University, to author this thought-provoking piece on the future of biofuels. Huber and Dale maintain that, while we must end our use of oil and begin using biofuels, growing crops to make biofuels will never provide enough fuel. This is what makes their method ideal, it can use any garbage parts of the plant, even what you put out every week in your greenwaste can. While garbage can fill in the gaps in the system we will need some agricultural farming to produce the bulk of fuel, especially at the beginning when we initially transition to a biofuel economy. Professor Richard Parnas at the University of Connecticut joins them as being the only researcher to specifically look at hemp as a basis for biofuel production.

It’s not just biofuels though, everything that humanity currently makes from oil could be made from hemp bio-oil. You may be wondering why I am only talking about hemp and not switchgrass or other options, that is because hemp is one of the lowest costs to highest yields out there. Paired with its fast growth, disease resistance and other positive traits, there is no better option than hemp. The best part of hemp is that it is a CO2 sponge, greedily absorbing much more CO2 in its short growth cycle than many larger plants. This means if any biofuel has a chance of being CO2 neutral or even negative it is a hemp-based one.

Hemp Biofuels to Save The World

Article by Mitchell Colbert for The Leaf Online