Hemp oil is made by pressing the seed of the hemp plant; just as hemp seed oil is used to produce highly nutritious food oils and medicinal products, the oil can also be produced for use as fuel. Food-grade hemp oil needs to be converted to biodiesel.
Hemp is the same plant as marijuana, its scientific name is "cannabis sativa." For thousands of years hemp was used to make dozens of commercial products like paper, rope, canvas, and textiles. In fact, the very name "canvas" comes from the Dutch word meaning cannabis, which is marijuana. That's correct, real canvas is made from marijuana!
Here in the UK, we’re a net importer (our imports minus our exports) of petroleum products. We imported (net) 10 million tonnes in 2016 - the highest such figure since the 1984 miner’s strike. Most of these imports come from Norway and 28% come from OPEC countries including Nigeria (9% of total imports), Algeria (7%) and Russia (5%). If relationships worsened with any of our major suppliers, prices could rise quickly. As a leading source of fuel, access to crude oil has long been known to determine economic strength, due to its ability to facilitate trade. Producing more of our fuel at home gives us more control over prices and more economic stability. It makes sense, therefore, to diversify our energy supply and invest more in domestic sources of fuel such as bioethanol.
If the environmental, economic and political drivers continue pushing, the demand for ethanol (and the chemically identical bioethanol) will continue to increase. Considering that climate change is being felt the world over, wars are being waged over access to fuel (think the Iraq war or Russia's annexation of Crimea) and our demand for energy in all forms is continuing to grow, these drivers don’t look likely to change. How can hemp muscle in on this market? Well, the problem with grain-derived bioethanol (the type produced from corn, sugar and fruits) is that there is potential for it to compete with the food industry, possibly driving the price of grains higher and the prices of our favourite foods and staples higher with it. The reason for this is that you can't eat the corn and produce fuel with it; you have to do one or the other. In other words, you can't have your cake and eat it!
So far, we’ve been talking about fuel as the liquid fuel that we use in our cars, aeroplanes and other transport engines. We’ve found that you can make two types of liquid fuel using hemp; bioethanol for use with petrol engines and biodiesel, for use with diesel engines. However these liquid fuels only make up one part of our overall fuel consumption. We use other fuels, like coal and gas, in enormous quantities to fire our power stations and produce electricity for use at home. Similarly, we burn gas at home to heat our houses and cook our food. This is, by far, where the greatest opportunity stands for hemp to be used as a source of fuel. But how? When it comes to power-generation, you have the methods that burn fossil fuels (coal & gas power stations) and you have the renewable ones, like wind farms, hydro, solar and importantly; biomass power plants.
As we have shown, hemp has a strong theoretical basis for strengthening our economy through energy security. Bioethanol, biodiesel and biomass power plants certainly have their benefits but it is Biomass power plants followed by bioethanol liquid fuel that hold the most promise. However not being assessed thoroughly, nor being explored on a large enough scale, has led policy to overlook the contribution hemp can make to our economy.
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