Fuel Alternatives

tt's image for:
"Fuel Alternatives"
Image by: 

Hemp 2002

Hemp has existed naturally for thousands of years. In Rethinking Hemp, Wilke (1996) said, "Hemp's history goes back 10,000 years, when paper made from it was used for Chinese documents" (p.1). The United States Constitution was written on hemp as well. "George Washington and Thomas Jefferson recommended that the early colonists grow the 'abundant weed' and cultivate it into such products as lamp oil, flour, and fabric for uniforms and clothing:" (Wilke, 1996, p.9) Slaves heavily cultivated hemp during the 1800s in America. In Slavery in the Hemp Industry by James F. Hopkins (1951), he said, "On the hemp farm and in the hemp factories the need for laborers was filled to a large extent by use of Negro slaves, and it is a significant fact that the heaviest concentration of slavery was in the hemp producing area" (p.4).

Today, hemp is used to produce many industrial goods. It can be used to produce construction materials, such as paneling, fiberboard, insulation; paper; textiles like diapers, denim, shoes, rope; plastics; food products; personal hygiene items like soap and cosmetics; and fuel. (Industrial Hemp, 1996, p.1). However, we use fossil fuels to power this world. "Fossil fuel resources are non-renewable, being the end product of eons of natural decomposition of Earth's ancient biomass. fossil fuels contain sulfur, which is the source of many of the aggravating environmental pollution problems threatening America" (Osburn, p.1). Also, burning fossil fuels releases 'ancient' carbon dioxide, produced by primeval plant life eons ago, into the atmosphere causing the air we breathe to get overburdened with CO2 increasing the danger of global warming and the green house effect" (Osburn, p.1). Hemp can be an alternative to fossil fuels.

In a personal interview with Professor Oberly, Physics Department at Marshall University, he stated, "People today must learn how to use biomass in order to save our environment due to the harsh impacts of coal mining, timbering, and oil drilling (R. Oberly, April 4, 2002). Hemp is a biomass that can be converted into a renewable fuel. Biomass is commonly referred to as the earth's vegetation. "Trees and grasses have been cut, dried, and burned to cook food and heat homes, a practice that is still religiously employed throughout the developing world" (EPA, 2001, p.1). "Biomass also includes dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural crop residues, aquatic plants, wood and wood residues, animal wastes and other organic waste materials" (Agency Group 05, 2002. p.1). "The mainstream hemp movement focuses on the applicable and economic uses of the plant, while distancing itself from the pro-marijuana agenda" (Baard & Flood, p.2).

This bio diesel would be obtained differently. If cars were made to run off hemp, then, the need for energy farming would increase. "Farmers would be able to grow hemp for pyrolysis factories. This, in return, would create more jobs for rural communities. As a result, the process of refining the gas would be healthier for our environment. In Energy Farming in America, Osburn stated, "The synthetic process utilizes a pyrolytic reactor by injecting pure oxygen into the reactor core to completely burn the biomass to ash. The energy contained in the biomass is released in the gasses formed. After purification, catalysts under high pressure and heat, form methanol and alter the syn-gas, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide in a 2 to 1 ratio. This method will produce 100 gallons of methanol per ton of feed material" (p.3). Another plus of hemp farming would be "about 6% of contiguous United States land area put into cultivation for biomass could supply all current demands for oil and gas" (Osburn, p.2). 

Our economy would benefit from hemp as a bio diesel. Farmers would be able to earn income from energy crops. Due to dwindling tobacco sales and lawsuits placed upon the major tobacco companies, farmers would have a chance to benefit again. In the early 1900s, farmers did exactly that. In E: The Environmental Magazine, Kane stated, "Hemp would be known as an energy crop." As stated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, " crops are cultivated exclusively for use as sources of energy" (, p.1.) For example, West Virginia has " estimated 5.4 million MWh of electricity that could be generated using renewable biomass fuels. This is enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 543,000 homes or 60 percent of residential electricity use in the state. Untapped sources of biomass in West Virginia include crop residue, wood waste, and forest product industries" (Biobased Fuels State Fact Sheet, p.1).

Despite the benefits of hemp, strict regulations by the Federal government have been placed upon the plant. The Marijuana Tax Act was the first step in prohibition of hemp. "It placed strict regulations on the manufacturing, selling, cultivating on the plant" (p.1). The current status of hemp is a Schedule 1, despite its limited effects as a narcotic with less than 3% of THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana contains anywhere from 7 to 20% of THC.

In the Kentucky Post, Board Studying Viability of Hemp as Crop, stated, "There are two views of the crop: Pro-hemp activists have long touted the plant as a replacement crop for beleaguered tobacco farmers, who have seen their quotas and incomes shrivel the past several years. On the other hand, law enforcement officials have consistently opposed its growth; saying it is too difficult to distinguish from marijuana" (Kinney, p.1). But, due to the fact hemp contains any THC at all, it remains on the list for psychoactive narcotics. Anne Wilke stated, "Seed varieties of the hemp plant that have been developed through genetic engineering carry THC levels of less than one percent and are incapable of producing a 'high' effect no matter how much is smoked" (p.2).

One of the largest hemp supporters for the industrialization of hemp is the North American Industrial Hemp Council, which was founded October, 1995. This is an interest group which helps the education of hemp as a renewable resource. On Wednesday, March 22, 2000, the Chicago Tribune ran an article, Hemp's State Fans Want It to Grow Here by Ryan Keith. The article stated, "Part of a national push for the legalization of industrial hemp, Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal that would authorize the state's two largest public universities to study the possibility of growing hemp legally" (p.1). Senator Evelyn Bowles from Illinois said, "We need to find something that's going to keep people on the farm" (p.1). Despite the growing ban on hemp in America, it is still imported daily from other countries. The first test crop in America is in Hawaii. In Earth Island Journal, "...the U.S. took the first step to legalizing the commercial farming of industrial hemp when Hawaii governor Benjamin Cayetano dedicated a three-acre test plot 25 miles northwest of Honolulu. The Drug Enforcement Agency-approved plot was financed with a $200,000 grant from hemp shampoo maker Alterna Professional Hair Care products" (Hemp Farms Coming to the US, p.14). In 1999, North Dakota became the first state to legalize commercial hemp farming.

Governor Jesse Ventura is prepared to negotiate hemp-growing permits for Minnesota farms as well (Hemp Farms, p.14). West Virginia has also pushed through bills containing the legalization of industrial hemp. West Virginian Senator, Karen Facemyer is supporting this campaign. In State Prepares for Commercial Growth of Hemp published in the Charleston Daily Mail, Governor Bob Wise stated, "...recently signed the Industrial Hemp Act, kicking into motion a plan for West Virginians to cultivate the marijuana-like plant for use in clothing, bath products, car dashboards, and other products. However, there is still at least one major hurdle between West Virginia and hemp wealth - the federal government isn't sure whether it's going to allow commercial cultivation of hemp" (p.1). But, the Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglas said, "Step one for the state's industrial hemp project is going to be navigating the federal rules. He said he hopes to work with West Virginia University's Davis College of Agriculture to do some experimentation on growing industrial hemp" (Tranum, p.1).

When a petition is filed against the DEA, the agency is required to respond within a reasonable amount of time. If the DEA does not comply, the matter is bound for the courts.  The government has previously acknowledged hemp's usefulness by suspending the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. During World War II, Japan cut off hemp imports from the Philippines to America. America became the rallying point. Hemp was used to make paper, uniforms, other clothing, twine, rope, etc. "Patriotic hemp farmers were encouraged to apply for a license to grow hemp. They responded enthusiastically and grew 375,000 acres of hemp in 1943" (Osburn, p.5).  Currently, cars are in production for bio diesel. The hemp car is the first to travel across America fueled only by hemp. It is a "...1983 Mercedes station wagon powered by oil squeezed from cannabis seeds and converted into bio diesel, a cleaner vegetable substitute for the petroleum product" as stated by Baard and Flood. Bio diesel fleets used by the government in California, Minnesota, and Florida are "...complying with a 1992 law mandating greener fleets. The Pentagon and National Parks Service have also taken bio diesel to heart as well" (p.3).

More about this author: tt

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow