The world has been drilling fossil fuels for nearly 150 years. The industrial age and the development of machinery and electricity required energy sources. Fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy resource yet natural gas, oil, and coal supply about 86% of our energy needs. The resources are finite and only found in some parts of the world. There is high demand for fossil fuels which makes their prices to keep skyrocketing. The world may run out of fossil fuels in the next 200 years. We may run out petroleum within 50 years, natural gas within 65 years while coal may last for another 200 years. Notwithstanding, that population increase leads to an increase in demand for energy.
Additionally, fossil fuels emit pollutants that have many environmental and health hazards. To convert fossil fuels into energy, combustion releases releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment. The result is global warming which leads to depletion of the ozone layer. The gases also cause health conditions in animals and human beings.
Alternative Sources of Energy
Considering the implications of fossil fuels to our environment, health, and future generations, we need alternatives. There is a need for the world to use alternative renewable energy resources. Some of the renewable energy resources that can replace fossil fuels include solar energy, wind power, biomass, and bio-fuels. Hemp is one of the bio-fuels we can use to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make the world more energy secure without having to worry about global warming and depletion of resources.
The History of Hemp as an Alternative Fuel
Making fuel from hemp, or rather making bio-fuels is not a new idea. Over a century ago, due to a fuel crisis that was as a result of world war II, Henry Ford manufactured a vehicle called Henry Ford’s Model T. The vehicle could run on bi0-fuels- ethanol, gas or both. Henry Ford realized that fuels could be produced from anything that can ferment like sawdust, weeds, or fruits. Unfortunately, discovery of large crude oil deposits overtook Ford’s idea and the issue of hemp-based fuel was no longer an emergency.
Hemp Fuel Production
Hemp can produce two types of fuels; ethanol and bio-diesel. Hemp bio-diesel is a product of hemp seeds while hemp ethanol comes from the rest of the plant.
a) Hemp Diesel Fuel
To produce hemp bio-diesel, hemp seeds are pressed to extract oils and fats. Then, the fats and oils are processed into bio-diesel which is used to fuel diesel-powered automobiles. The oil closely resembles diesel but it is renewable and cleaner than conventional diesel. Hemp bio-fuel can use the same mechanisms of transportation and storage that diesel uses, therefore, no need for construction of new infrastructure.
b) Hemp Ethanol Fuel
Hemp ethanol is also referred to as “hempoline” or “hempanol.” Traditional Ethanol comes from grains like corn, wheat, and barley. It is usually added to gasoline. However, food crops are much harder to grow than hemp. Therefore, using hemp as an alternative to wheat, corn, and barley in the production of ethanol is a viable idea which will save resources. To produce hemp ethanol, hemp is fermented and then distilled to extract the ethanol. While hemp bio-diesel is a product of hemp seeds, hemp ethanol comes from the rest of the hemp plant. Therefore, production of both hemp bio-diesel and hemp ethanol will utilize most of the hemp plant. The other advantage is that hemp will use the transportation systems that are in place for ethanol and as such most of the infrastructure is in place.
Advantages of Hemp Fuel
Hemp is a carbon-neutral energy source. Not only that, during hemp farming hemp plant uptakes a lot of carbon dioxide from the environment and releases oxygen faster than trees. By doing so, it reduces the effects of climate change. Additionally, the industrial hemp plant requires fewer fertilizers and water to reach maturity than most other plants. What’s more, hemp plant does not deplete soil nutrients but rather returns some nutrients back into the soil. Moreover, the maturity period of the hemp plant is short, within 16 weeks the plant is usually ready for harvest.
The History of Hemp in the USA
Hemp has been a controversial crop because it is a cousin of the illegal plant marijuana and they belong to the family of plants called Cannabis sativa. Marijuana has psychoactive properties because it contains the psychoactive compound THC in large amounts. The two plants closely resemble and as a result hemp has been demonized too. However, there are a lot of reasons to excite USA farmers and the hemp industry since the Farm Bill was signed into law on December 20, 2018. However, a lot of mechanisms have to be put into place and research conducted about seed varieties suitable for American climate.
Hemp was previously an illegal crop and it was classified under the Controlled Substances act. The 2018 Farm Bill mandated the US Department of Agriculture to provide regulations to states. Although the plant has a lot of potential, it will take a few years, for all farming mechanisms to be put into place and for farmers to get used to the crop cultivation.
Other Uses of the Industrial Hemp Plant
Apart from producing bio-fuels, hemp is a useful plant that is medicinal, and rich in a cannabinoid called CBD. The compound makes up to 40% of hemp’s extract. CBD helps in various medical conditions like pain, anxiety, and stress. In the USA, Epidiolex, a hemp derivative drug with CBD was approved in 2018 for managing two forms of epilepsy conditions. In addition to that, the seeds and fiber of the industrial hemp plant are raw materials for manufacturing more than an estimated 25,000 product. These include bio-plastics, clothing, cosmetics, building materials among others. Unlike products like conventional plastic produced from petroleum, hemp products are eco-friendly because they are biodegradable. Petroleum-based plastics and other products take hundreds of years to degrade.
In conclusion, there is a need to bolster this useful plant because it is a sustainable energy resource. Hemp bio-fuels have the potential to turn the USA and the world’s economy. We can change the narrative of fossil fuel dependency to hemp-based economies. The result will be a greener world, a greener America.