Could Hemp Be The Next Big Thing In Sustainable Cotton, Fuel, Wood And Plastic?
Since nations like the U.S. and Australia have lifted their bans on growing hemp, a revolution is brewing.
Innovators are taking up the gauntlet to cultivate this versatile plant for a medley of biodegradable materials including plastic polymers, building products, fabrics, wood, biofuel, paper and even car components.
It’s not new. The fiber from industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa) – from the same species as its cousin marijuana but without the mind-altering THC – has been used for thousands of years to make paper, rope, cloth and fuel.
Although still used in China and Europe, hemp went out of fashion, by and large, as it was outlawed and replaced by plastic, cotton, fossil fuels and other profitable products. But as their damage to the Earth has reached crisis proportions, the race is on to produce sustainable alternatives.
Hemp is a weed, so it grows prolifically with little water and no pesticides. It takes up relatively little space, produces more pulp per acre than trees, and is biodegradable. Hemp crops even give back by returning nutrients to the soil and sequestering carbon dioxide.
Virtually every part of the plant can be used. The stalk’s outer bast fiber can make textiles, canvas and rope while its woody core – hurd – is used for paper, construction and animal bedding. Not to be overlooked, the seeds are high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fats and other nutrients. Their oil can be used for paints, adhesives, cooking and plastics. Even the leaves can be eaten and used to make juice.
Morris Beegle, co-founder and president of WAFBA (We Are For Better Alternatives) is a staunch advocate of industrial hemp.
He is passionate about replacing unsustainable agricultural practices. “Industrial agriculture is one of the greatest drivers, maybe even the biggest driver, of climate change,” he says.
“Hemp is a more sustainable, organic and regenerative agricultural crop, and most everything that you can make with cotton or soy or corn can be made with hemp – with way less impact on the Earth.”
Beegle set up his hemp company in 2012 and then launched the NoCo Hemp Expo, which has grown to be the largest in the world.
With a merchandising company called TreeFreeHemp, Beegle produces a vast array of custom products including paper, business cards, flyers, posters, CD and DVD sleeves and more. Drawing from his background in the music industry, he even produces boutique, custom-made guitars, using hemp for the body, straps, picks and volume knobs.
“It’s kind of a novelty thing,” he says, “but at the same time it’s an educational piece using the whole array of tools to show that, hey, hemp can do all these things.”
Another leader in the hemp industry is Paul Benhaim. He has made inroads with the plant’s rich nutritional qualities through Hemp Foods Australia and Elixinol – which also sells cosmetic products.
Benhaim has branched out into hemp plastic, with the lofty goal to “continue to grow as the largest Hemp Plastic manufacturer in the world,” delivering plastic polymers at competitive prices to replace petroleum-based materials.
According to Beegle, Benhaim and his partner, Kevin Tubbs, plan to process 50 million pounds of hemp plastic this year. “It’s a drop in the bucket to the world consumption of plastics,” he says, “but it’s a big thing for the hemp industry because it’s more than anyone has ever been able to do so far, and he’s got some pretty exciting technology that’s going to be released unto the world in the coming years.”
Currently, there are less than a million acres of hemp growing across the planet. Beegle sees this starting to grow exponentially over the next five to 20 years. “I don’t think there’s any way to stop it now.”
Last year, the global industrial hemp market was forecast to reach US$10.6 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Its compound annual growth rate is expected to expand by 14% during that time, largely driven by hemp’s nutritional and cosmetic qualities.
“But we don’t need hemp turning into another monoculture crop that’s GMO, going to be sprayed and farmed conventionally all over the planet and do the same shit that every other crop does,” says Beegle.
“We want hemp to be the steward of agriculture.”
Industrial hemp has major applications in fuel, textiles, biodegradable plastics, healthy food, paper making, and construction industries.
It can also be used as an alternative for various products, such as tree paper and as raw material for the production of plastics and cosmetics. Additionally, the rising need for a healthy lifestyle is also predicted to provide significant growth opportunities to the players engaged in the industrial hemp market.
Hemp could soon be the go-to for making diesel fuel from a renewable plant source.
Pacific Biodiesel Technologies (PBT) announced the development of the first state-licensed industrial hemp farm in Maui, Hawai’i earlier this week.
Maui is part of the Hawaiian archipelago and covers an area of 1,884 km².
PBT founders Bob and Kelly King said the Maui hemp facility will operate under the King’s Imua Energy, LLC; initially manufacturing full-spectrum industrial hemp extracts, which will be produced using a supercritical CO2 extractor.
The 10-acre hemp cultivation site is located within Imua Energy’s 115-acre farm in Maui’s central valley and will be the first industrial hemp farm in the USA to utilise 100% biodiesel. The site has soil that has been remediated through the cultivation of sunflowers.
The cultivation of industrial hemp offers a wealth of opportunity for our island, from health and wellness and culinary usage to textile and biofuel production.
The company says the first crop will be planted in May 2019 and the first products should be ready in August this year. Products will be distributed by Maiden Hawaii Naturals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Biodiesel.
While the farm will initially focus on industrial hemp flower cultivars, it may later include fiber and grain varieties.
Pacific Biodiesel is the USA’s longest operating biodiesel producer, with a nameplate production capacity of 5.5 million gallons annually.
Hawai’i, the state’s Department of Agriculture said earlier this month a new regulatory program based on the 2018 Farm Bill should be available for the 2020 growing season.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture issued the first licenses to growers under state’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in June 2018. Currently, 17 licensees are listed. Applications are accepted at any time, but licenses will only be issued 4 times a year – in March, June, September and December.
A study by University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources researchers released in 2016 indicated 70 tons of industrial hemp could be harvested per acre each year in the state.
Turns out hemp can produce nearly four times as much oil per acre as the current favourite source of biodiesel, soybeans.
Hemp for Fuel. One of hemp’s most desirable characteristics is that it can be used for the production of fuel – something human life has been predicated on for millennia. … To that end, two liquid fuels can be made from hemp. The first of these being bioethanol and the other; biodiesel.
Hemp, or industrial hemp (from Old English hænep), typically found in the northern hemisphere, is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants[ and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago.It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.
Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp both derive from the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are distinct strains with unique phytochemical compositions and uses. Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. The legality of industrial hemp varies widely between countries. Some governments regulate the concentration of THC and permit only hemp that is bred with an especially low THC content.
Hemp Biofuel Could Ease Our Dependence On Fossil Fuels
After legalization, hemp biofuel could be a key part of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Fuel is everything. America would not be the hyper-efficient economy it is today without something to power our cars, computers, and our Roomba vacuum cleaners. We would be nothing but Neolithic farmers without our electricity and gasoline. But, anything that is truly valuable always comes at a price. Traditional fuel sources hurt the environment, and they’re running out. Air pollution from processing fossil fuels harms the troposphere, and indirectly depletes ozone from our atmosphere. The price for hyper efficiency is evident, which is why alternative fuel sources are becoming so important. Today we focus on a fuel source that hits close to home. That alternative is hemp biofuel.
The cannabis plant is the gift that keeps on givin’. This magic plant gives us CBD oil, THC, hemp fibers and even fuel! Researchers have made hemp into two types of biofuel: biodiesel and ethanol.
Biodiesel is produced by the pressing of hemp seeds to extract their oils & fats. After the extraction, the product is then put through more steps to make it into a usable hemp biofuel for your car. If you’re curious to learn about the specifics of biodiesel production, the process is thoroughly explained by hemp.com.
The argument for hemp-derived biodiesel comes down to convenience. If processed correctly, biodiesel can be put into any diesel-powered automobiles. It can be stored and transported like diesel, so there isn’t a need to create a new system for transportation. It even replaces the smell of traditional diesel with the smell of hemp.
USING HEMP TO MAKE ETHANOL
Ethanol is traditionally made from wheat-based crops such as corn and barley. It’s traditionally used as an additive to gasoline, which gave way to our “flex-fuel” vehicles of today. Hemp can be made into ethanol by various forms of fermentation. Using hemp as the main source of ethanol, instead of food crops like wheat & corn has clear advantages. Not using food crops as a fuel source allows more efficiency in food production, and hemp can be grown in lower quality conditions unlike corn or wheat. Hemp-derived ethanol also shares the advantages of transportation and usability as biodiesel.
HEMP BIOFUEL OFFERS A MORE SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE
Fuel alternatives like this can seem like a no-brainer to replace our traditional fossil-fuel sources, but there are drawbacks to these alternative techniques.
To set up a large-scale industrial hemp farm, you will experience the same ethical dilemmas that the farming industry faces. Deforestation and pesticide use will increase, and we’ll inevitably replace some of our food-crop land with more hemp-crop land. Farmers can grow hemp biofuel on land that is not fit for other crops. This “marginal land” is essentially land that isn’t tilled and cleared out for farming. Despite the versatility, hemp produces a much bigger harvest in ideal farming settings. Additionally, marginal land is actually home to important plants, trees, and living creatures that are vital to the ecosystem. Read “Is Hemp The Best Biofuel?” from sensiseeds.comfor a more in-depth look into the argument for hemp biofuel.
Clearly, hemp biofuel alone won’t solve our environmental crisis, but we believe it could be part of a transition to a cleaner way of living.
HOW THE AUTO-INDUSTRY ALREADY USES HEMP
While hemp biofuel may not be a popular ralternative just yet, the automotive industry already uses hemp. Automakers weave hemp plastic into a bendable material similar to fiberglass. Almost all European car makers use hemp fibers as interior door panels and trim pieces. And companies like FlexForm technologies operate as a dedicated producer of hemp-fiberglass that they sell to automotive companies to be made into car doors and exterior panels. Cars that feature hemp-based materials include the BMW i8 supercar and the Lotus Evora. The advantages that come with hemp-made materials is that they are lighter, bio-degradable, and comes from a much easier renewable resource. Hemp grows in roughly 3 months while metals take thousands of years to form.
Thanks to continued bipartisan support for hemp legalization paired with a culture that is growing increasingly accepting of the cannabis plant, we’re witnessing the beginning of hemp revolution. While hemp biofuel can’t solve the entire energy crisis (we believe the answer to that problem will require multiple solutions), it can provide us with a great renewable fuel source in addition to it’s already useful applications.
While we spent our time here discussing hemp biofuel, let’s not forget the other ways people have been using hemp. There’s hemp beer, hemp blankets, and, this reporter’s personal favorite, hemp food! The future is indeed green.