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Hemp as a Fuel / Energy Source

By Jeremy Briggs

Biodiesel fuel from Hemp Seed Oil

Hemp seed oil can be used as is in bio-diesel engines. Methyl esters, or bio-diesel, can be made from any oil or fat including hemp seed oil. The reaction requires the oil, an alcohol (usually methanol), and a catalyst, which produces bio-diesel and small amount of glycerol or glycerin. When co-fired with 15% methanol, bio-diesel fuel produces energy less than 1/3 as pollution as petroleum diesel.

Energy and Fuel from Hemp Stalks through Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis is the technique of applying high heat to biomass, or organic plants and tree matter, with little or no air. Reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants and automobiles can be accomplished by converting biomass to fuel utilizing pyrolysis technology. The process can produce, from lingo-cellulosic material (like the stalks of hemp), charcoal, gasoline, ethanol, non-condensable gasses, acetic acid, acetone, methane, and methanol. Process adjustments can be done to favor charcoal, pyrolytic oil, gas, or methanol, with 95.5% fuel-to-feed ratios. Around 68% of the energy of the raw biomass will be contained in the charcoal and fuel oils -- renewable energy generated here at home, instead of overpaying for foreign petroleum.

Pyrolysis facilities can run 3 shifts a day, and since pyrolysis facilities need to be within 50 miles of the energy crop to be cost effective, many new local and rural jobs will be created, not to mention the employment opportunities in trucking and transportation.

Hemp vs. Fossil Fuels

Pyrolysis facilities can use the same technology used now to process fossil fuel oil and coal. Petroleum coal and oil conversion is more efficient in terms of fuel-to-feed ratio, but there are many advantages to conversion by pyrolysis.

1) Biomass has a heating value of 5000-8000 BTU/lb, with virtually no ash or sulfur emissions.

2) Ethanol, methanol, methane gas, and gasoline can be derived from biomass at a fraction of the cost of the current cost of oil, coal, or nuclear energy, especially when environmental costs are factored in. Each acre of hemp could yield about 1000 gallons of methanol.

3) When an energy crop is growing, it takes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, and releases an equal amount when it is burned, creating a balanced system, unlike petroleum fuels, which only release CO2. When an energy crop like hemp is grown on a massive scale, it will initially lower the CO2 in the air, and then stabilize it at a level lower than before the planting of the energy crop.

4) Use of biomass would end acid rain, end sulfer-based smog, and reverse the greenhouse effect.

Coal

Unlike petroleum reserves, America has enough coal to last 100-300 years, but burning it for electricity puts sulfur -- toxic to every membrane in which it comes in contact, especially the simplest life forms -- into the air, which leads to acid rain, which kills 50,000 Americans, and 5,000 - 10,000 Canadians, annually, and destroys the forests, river, and animals. Not only is electricity production a common use of coal, but it is also used in smelting furnaces across the world. In order to boil tungsten, a popular metal used in jewelry, a furnace must be heated up to 5700 degrees Celsius; that's approximately the same heat as the surface of the sun!

Charcoal can be created from biomass through pyrolysis (charcoaling), which has nearly the same heating value in BTU as coal, virtually without sulfur. Biomass can also be co-fired with coal to reduce emissions, an important consideration since not only is coal a common heating element, but on the flip side many Americans run air conditioners and quality ceiling fans off electricity from coal-fired powerplants. Replacing coal would be a fantastic use of hemp.

Ethanol and Methanol

Ethanol is a water-free, high-octane alcohol which can be used as fuel to drive cars. Under current conditions, use of ethanol-blended fuels such as E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) can reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases by as much as 37.1%. Ethanol-powered vehicles do suffer in performance (barely), but ethanol is effective as a fuel additive because it helps engines burn cleaner.

Once pyrolysis facilities are up and running, converting biomass into charcoal for electrical power plants, it will be more feasible to build the complex gasifying systems to produce ethanol and/or methanol from the cubed biomass, or to make high-octane lead-free gasoline from the methanol using a catalytic process developed by Georgia Tech University in conjunction with Mobil Oil Corporation.

Ethanol is currently being used as a fuel additive, replacing toxic methyl tertiary ether (MTBE). Ethanol producers are currently providing only 1% of America's liquid fuel. Soon though, as new development processes are researched, and with the use of hemp, the plant worlds number one producer of biomass, the cost of this alternative fuel will give petroleum vigorous competition.

Hydrolysis: A process whereby cellulose is converted to fermentable glucose, which holds the greatest promise for production and feedstock, because it could produce 100 gallons/ton. Tim Castleman and the Fuel and Fiber Company are researching this technology. Their method extracts the high-value bast fiber as first step. Then the remaining core material (mostly hurd) is converted to alcohol (methanol, ethanol), and then to glucose. Hydrolysis could produce 300,000 to 600,000 tons of biomass per year per facility, if each facility could process input from 60,000 to 170,000 acres.

Gasification: A form of pyrolysis which converts biomass into synthetic gas, such as ethanol, and low grade fuel oil with an energy content of about 40% that of petroleum diesel. This process is good for community power-corporation and people seeking self-sufficient energy needs. A small modular bio-powered system is in place in the village of Alaminos in the Philippines, using gasification techniques for energy.

Anaerobic Digestion: A process of capturing methane from green waste material (biomass). This process is toxic, but well suited for distributed power generation when co-located with electrical generation equipment.

Boiler: Biomass can also be burned in a boiler, but this energy has a value of $30-50 ton, which makes it impractical due to the higher value of hemp fiber, unless used on a local small scale, and in remote rural applications.

Hemp Produces the Most Biomass of Any Plant on Earth.

Hemp is at least four times richer in biomass/cellulose potential than its nearest rivals: cornstalks, sugarcane, kenaf, trees, etc.

Hemp produces the most biomass of any crop, which is why it is the natural choice for an energy crop. Hemp converts the sun's energy into cellulose faster than any other plant, through photosynthesis. Hemp can produce 10 tons of biomass per acre every four months. Enough energy could be produced on 6% of the land in the U.S. to provide enough energy for our entire country (cars, heat homes, electricity, industry) -- and we use 25% of the world's energy.

To put which in perspective, right now we pay farmers not to grow on 6% (around 90 million acres) of the farming land, while another 500 million acres of marginal farmland lies fallow. This land could be used to grow hemp as an energy crop.

Conclusion

The most important aspect of industrial hemp farming, the most compelling thing hemp offers us, is fuel. Right now we are depleting our reserves of petroleum and buying it up from other countries. It would be nice if we could have a fuel source which was reusable and which we could grow right here, making us completely energy independent.

Petroleum fuel increases carbon monoxide in the atmosphere and contributes heavily to global warming and the greenhouse effect, which could lead to global catastrophe in the next 50 years if these trends continue. Do you want to find out if they are right, or do you want to grow the most cost effective and environmentally safe fuel source on the planet?

Using hemp as an energy and rotation crop would be a great step in the right direction.

Hemp Seed Oil

Hemp seed oil has historically been used as lamp oil. It is said to shine the brightest of all lamp oils. Hemp seed oil lit the lamps of Abraham Lincoln, Abraham the prophet, and was used in the legendary lamps of Aladdin.

Anything which can be made from fossil fuels can be made from an organic substance like hemp. Toxic petrochemicals can be replaced with hemp oil.

Hemp oil can be made into anything with an oil base, including paint, varnish, detergent, solvent, and lubricating oil. The advantage of these product is that they are earth friendly and biodegradable, and do not destroy ecosystems around them like petrochemicals do.

Until the 1930s most paint and varnishes were made with non-toxic hemp oil. Hemp paint provides superior coating because hemp oil soaks into and preserves wood, due to its high resistance to water.

Hemp oil is a good base for non-toxic printing inks. Soy is currently made into inks, but soy ink requires more processing and takes longer to dry than hemp oil based inks.

 

Understanding how hemp can be used as a type of fuel is important for our society moving forward. Someone who has completed one of the many Masters in Civil Engineering Programs that are available could use this information when planning a specific project. The legal aspects of help could be examined during a Masters of Law Online, and putting together large scale hemp projects could be better understood through the completion of a Online Masters Project Management. 

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