With a new Administration in Washington there is no time like the present to ‘dream the things that never were’ and to focus on the energy potential of hemp. The potential for hemp as a biomass feedstock is seemingly boundless. Whether as a blending material with coal for thermal power generation, a renewable natural gas (RNG), or as a biofuel, i.e., bio-crude, biodiesel, or bio-jet fuel, hemp has the flexibility and the natural properties to be a tremendous boost to meet the growing demand for biofuels.
While Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack views biofuels as a key component of reducing climate emissions, it is his comments regarding the potential for biomass as a key component in diversifying aviation and marine fuels.
“As we look at the future, I think biofuels continue to play a role in reducing emissions and providing job opportunities in all parts of the country,” Vilsack said. He also indicated he believes the Biden administration will support the biofuels industry, noting that Biden committed to the RFS [renewable fuel standard] during the campaign and he expects him to follow through on that commitment,” said Vilsack.
The energy abundance found in hemp is astounding in comparison to other crops and biomass presently converted to energy products. The fuel yield for hemp is approximately four times higher than soybeans, a widely accepted crop for biodiesel production. Likewise, the energy adjusted yield for hemp is over double that of pelletized wheat straw, according to a 2011 Prade study.
Hemp energy can be produced in three basic ways: a solid fuel (pellet or briquette), a gas (RNG), or derived from the seed oil of the plant (such as how biodiesel is derived from other seed oils). As one can see, this fact is what makes the hemp a versatile plant for bioenergy production. From one plant at least two energy products could be produced, thereby giving both the farmer/grower and the energy processor/producer great return on investment in the energy production derived from hemp.
A 2014 whitepaper published Kentucky Hemp Growers Association, West Virginia Hemp Growers Association, and by Patriot Bioenergy Corporation, “Hemp: An Energy Crop to Transform Kentucky and West Virginia” examined a variety of energy end products derived from hemp. What they found was hemp has high Btu value and the ability to provide multiple cash-generating products from just one field of hemp. The production of “green coal” would dramatically reduce the sulfur emissions and other pollutants at coal-fired power plants. It would reduce the need to shutter these power generation facilities by easily reducing the emissions from coal. In addition, the great upside is the high yield per acre of hemp crops, meaning more biomass grown on less acreage. This alone gives hemp great merit as a cash crop and boost the development of rural economies.
For members of the National Hemp Growers Cooperative, the potential for a “energy hemp” model is tremendous. Focus on this rapidly growing industry and hemp’s rightful place in that industry is something that the NHGC is focused on for the long-term. One industry partner in this strategy will be Eureka Energy Corporation. Their willingness to partner with the NHGC will be a great leap forward as our cooperative moves forward with plans to assist our member growers in both in the planting, growing, and harvesting of hemp but also in securing long-term off-take agreements, investment, and contracts for their crop and fulfilling our commitment to building wealth for our member farmers/growers.
Robert F. Kennedy may have the right idea way before his time on hemp as an energy crop when he said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why’? I dream things that never wereand say, ‘Why not’?”