In a context of oil shortages, biofuels are an option to consider. Locally sourced and easily renewable, they are also cleaner. Hemp has several benefits as a future source of energy, especially the large quantities of biomass it produces. It is an alternative to non-renewable hydrocarbons that has a great potential.
GREEN ENERGIES FROM PLANTS
Several types of biofuels have been developed over time, thanks to different techniques and different plants. Hemp can be used as a basis for creating at least three different types of energies.
The oil extracted from the seeds can be converted into biodiesel, but it is especially the hemp lignocellulosic biomass that is interesting: it produces 7 to 10 tons of dry matter per hectare (while still allowing to harvest the seeds for food use).
Through a fermentation process (by microbes inside large bioreactors), hemp biomass can be converted into bioethanol, which is already widely used as an oil additive. Another method could produce methane, a gas that is burned by combustion engines and is also used for heating.
Let’s recall that originally, the inventor of the diesel engine made it so it could be powered by all kinds of fuels, especially those of plant origin.
ADVANTAGES OF HEMP TO PRODUCE BIOFUELS
- A generous and rapidly renewable resource. One hectare of hemp produces 7 to 10 tonnes of dry matter in just 4 months.
- A resource produced in an ecological way. Unlike other plants used to make biofuels, hemp does not disturb the ecological balance. It is a non-GMO crop that does not require herbicides or pesticides, little fertilizer and often no irrigation.
- A local resource. Growing in a wide variety of climates (from the tropics to the northern climate of Canada and Russia), hemp could in the future be transformed locally into fuel to limit transportation.
- A beneficial crop for the soil. Far from damaging the environment, hemp improves soils through its root system, natural resistance to weeds and nutrients given back to the soil by leaves and stems left in the fields. This makes it a good crop to add to rotations, without compromising food production.
- An agricultural outlet and a new agro-industrial activity favorable to the local economy.
- Does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Hydrocarbons are made of fossilized plants. Through burning, they release the carbon dioxide accumulated by these plants hundreds of millions of years ago. Their massive use for a century has suddenly dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is what causes the famous greenhouse gases. The biofuels produced today also release carbon dioxide, but in levels equivalent to the ones that the plants have stored during their growth: it is therefore a balanced cycle.
- Agrofuels are an additional source of fuel, conducive to energy independence and, eventually, great substitutes for oil, which is becoming scarce.