Besides making for great fiber and a superb smoke, cannabis can be turned into 2 types of fuel; biodiesel and ethanol. So, why aren’t we seeing hemp fuel at the pumps at Shell? Keep reading for an in-depth look at cannabis fuel, it’s advantages, disadvantages and more.
What Is Hemp Fuel And How Does It Hold Up Against Other Fuel Sources?
Hemp can provide 2 types of fuel; biodiesel, made from the oil of pressed hemp seeds, and ethanol, made from fermented hemp stalks. And it turns out that it might just be the most environmentally-friendly fuel source on the planet.
Crude oil and natural gas, which together fuel almost 70% of the world’s energy consumption, are sourced from reservoirs located thousands of meters underground. Both are fossil fuels formed over millions of years by the decomposition of dead organisms. Their production is expensive and takes a huge toll on the environment.
Hemp, on the other hand, is a plant that can be grown almost anywhere and produces high yields of biomass for fuel production in a matter of months. And while hemp fuels are about 50% less efficient than petrol, the environmental benefits of growing hemp for fuel far outnumber those of digging for crude oil or natural gas (which are exactly zero).
Then again, finding an environmental-friendly alternative to crude oil or natural gas isn’t exactly hard. So, let’s ask a different question; how does cannabis hold up when compared to alternative fuel sources like biodiesel and ethanol?
Biodiesel is made by mixing plant or animal fats and ethanol. According to the US Energy Information Administration, over 50% of biodiesel is made using soybean oil. Ethanol, on the other hand, is typically produced using corn or sugarcane.
As a crop, cannabis boasts a lot of advantages against all 3 of these plants. Plant per acre density for corn, sugarcane and soybean, for example, is usually around 22,000, 25,000 and 100,000, respectively. Hemp, on the other hand, can be grown at a density of up to 1,200,000 per acre, according to Manitoba Agriculture. In fact, hemp is grown at such high densities because it encourages the plants to develop bigger stems as they naturally compete for sunlight.
Hemp also triumphs over soy, corn, and sugarcane in other ways; it’s easy to grow in a variety of climates, can be harvest-ready in just 4 months, and is particularly resistant to pests and diseases. It can even help extract heavy metals and other contaminants from polluted soils, which is a lot more than what we can say for soybean (which kills biodiversity and contributes to soil erosion). Read more on hemp’s potential as a soil remediator here.
Come harvest time, hemp produces A LOT of biomass. According to Manitoba Agriculture, industrial hemp grown for fiber can produce yields of up to 3 tonnes per acre, while grain plants (grown for seeds) produce about 500kg per acre.
So, Why Can’t I Get Hemp Fuel At Shell or BP?
With so many benefits to growing hemp for fuel (besides its countless other uses), it seems hard to fathom that we’re still not reaping the rewards of this miracle plant. What exactly is keeping the world from going green with hemp fuel? Well, the answer to that is very complicated.
First and foremost, turning the world over to hemp biodiesel would take huge amounts of farmland. According to Medium, half the US would have to be covered in hemp just to meet the nation’s own demand. Not to mention, hemp biodiesel would retail about 13-times higher than regular diesel. There is still hope, however, for hemp ethanol which, according to some experts, could be produced for under $2 per gallon.
Unfortunately, hemp is still being held down by the fact that it’s a niche crop that fetches its highest prices when grown for the food, cosmetics, and CBD industries. Oh, and the fact that Standard Oil, Gulf Oil, and DuPont have been linked to cannabis’ prohibition in the 1930s might also have something to do with why we’re not filling our cars with hemp fuel. But that’s a story for another day.