are in Research
and the new energy technologies
has been promoted as a promising alternative crop for the future. The federal
government institutionalized alternative-crop research and development programs
as an integral part of national policy in 1990.
new programs have created standards for evaluating the potential of alternative
crops. The same standards apply to the potential use of cannabis plants as a source
for industrial raw materials. Given existing research into other alternative crops,
why not hemp?
of these new programs, advocates sometimes overstate the challenge of having hemp
adopted as a source of industrial raw materials. Hemp promoters work hard to present
arguments that meet optimum standards. These standards are premature.
stages of the adoption process for any promising innovation flow from research
through development and commercialization, culminating in adoption. No one knows
a plant's optimum standards until after research and development. The question
is, does a plant meet the standards which qualify it as a promising research subject?
If hemp has characteristics similar to or better than other potential crops, there
is no valid justification for officially ignoring it any longer.
our continuing coverage of hemp, Jon Gettman has authored a three-part series
on its viability as an alternative crop to be included in the Agriculture Department's
investigations. Part One will review the current existing biofuels program and
hemp's promising potential as an energy source. The second and third parts, which
we will publish over the next several months, will review the developing technologies
and the new hemp byproducts they can produce and explain how these new programs
provide an irresistible and irrefutable argument for a legal hemp industry in
the United States.
key to lobbying Congress and executive agencies for hemp development is to discuss
it in the context of existing government programs, to get government officials
on record justifying hemp's exclusion and to refute them with information from
official sources. This series will provide the tools for this job.
disagreement between Ed Rosenthal and Jack Herer in the April 1995 issue of HIGH
TIMES is fairly instructive. Rosenthal is skeptical of hemp's energy potential
and criticizes some of Herer's claims.
does require fertilizer: Rosenthal is right about that. Herer's claim that hemp
does not require much fertilizer is based on old Agriculture Department reports
from fields where the hurds were recycled into the soil. Rosenthal is also correct
that the future of US policy leads toward diversification, and that no one source
will meet all of our energy needs. Herer also engages in frequent hyperbole and
is so enthusiastic about hemp's potential that he sometimes overstates his case.
said, Jack Herer and Lynn Osburn are right on the mark when they claim that biomass
is the energy source of the future, and that hemp has exciting contributions to
make to bioenergy development. Herer is a promoter, the archetypal twentieth-century
hemp-oil salesman. But unlike the snake oil of the preceding century, Herer's
elixir lives up to most, if not all, of its promoter's claims.
key to hemp's potential as an energy source is new technology. To explain this
requires an understanding of how developing technologies can extract the energy
value of the molecular chains within the seed and stalk of the cannabis plant.
Rosenthal is correct that hemp has little or no value as an energy crop today;
Herer is correct that it will have considerable value as one in the future.
technologies provide the answer to how we get from here to the hemp-friendly future.
Biomass for energy is now a major policy of the US Government. Alternative crops
are in development as future energy sources, as is solid municipal waste.
United States now has 60 million idle acres of farmland (an area almost as big
as Oregon), including 34 million acres in conservation programs, which the Department
of Agriculture wants to see devoted to erosion-resistant energy-crop farming.
Energy farming does not require the use of marginal land, but hemp's versatility
may also help transform marginal land into productive acreage.
oil is a viable fuel source now. Louis Wichinsky, who powers his car with vegetable
oils ("Hemp-Ready Car Takes Off Across America, Apr. '95 HT), wasn't the only
one who realized during the 1970s energy crises that biodiesel fuel was the trend
of the future, and the US Government now knows it's trying to catch up in this
area of research.
primary issue remains unchallenged. The massive scale of potential bioenergy production
presents considerable environmental problems. These problems must be solved before
hemp, or any crop, can satisfy large percentages of US energy needs, and these
issues are now being addressed by current research.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) states in the foreword of their 1992 Yearbook
of Agriculture that: "It is important for America to lead in the research and
development of alternative uses for agricultural products." A major part of these
efforts is devoted to the development of bioenergy crops.
USDA hasn't exactly considered hemp as a source for fuel, but it is considering
other crops and has developed various standards. Hemp meets those standards. The
issue in the hemp-for-fuel debate is not how, but how long before the federal
government realizes the benefit of investing funds in hemp research.
practical goal is to develop energy crops to provide 10 to 30 percent of the country's
energy needs and to supply additional environmental benefits. There are also other
national interests that can be satisfied by energy crops, including economic,
budgetary and national-security concerns.
1990 Congress authorized the USDA to set up a division, the Alternative Agricultural
Research and Commercialization Center, to promote and assist in the development
of alternative agricultural crops.
into natural fuel sources suggests that hemp has two valuable contributions: stalk
and seeds. This gives it an advantage over many other experimental crops that
produce only one raw material. Hemp has other advantages over traditional crops
such as corn, despite the multiple uses for corn byproducts. Any attempt to develop
alternative uses for food crops will increase food prices, by increasing demand
for the crop and because of the complicated economics of crop-support programs.
USDA's Office of New Uses and Energy oversees the biofuels initiative and coordinates
work among various federal agencies. The Department of Energy (DOE) also has a
national biofuels program.
OF SOURCES FOR ETHANOL
to the USDA 1992 Yearbook, "One solution to the problems posed by our oil-supply
situation is homegrown energy. While this sounds good, in practice homegrown energy
is a tremendously complex undertaking that will require a lot of work and experimenting."
is the basic component of plants. It is easily converted to sugar, and sugar is
easily converted to ethyl alcohol. When conversion takes place in a still in the
mountains, the product is called moonshine. When it takes place in an industrial
plant, the product is called ethanol, and is used as a clean-burning fuel and
yields from cellulosic biomass have been increasing, and recently reached 60 gallons
per ton, at a cost of $1.50 to $2 per gallon. Corn produces 113 bushels per acre,
and produces 2.5 gallons of ethanol per bushel. US ethanol production has grown
from 20 million gallons in 1979 to 1.1 billion gallons in 1993.
cannot produce all the ethanol the United States can consume. Other sources are
being aggressively researched. Wood chips are another source, but they are difficult
to harvest. Agricultural residues and municipal wastes are also under consideration,
and new types of crops are in development.
energy crops--which regrow from stubble, like hay does--and short-rotation woody
crops--which regrow from stumps, like poplar--make up a new class of cellulosic
bioenergy crops. Five variables provide the standards of competition for them:
technical feasibility, availability of suitable land, economic viability, implementation
and environmental impacts.
Congressional Office of Technology Assessment reports that estimates of land area
available in the United States for energy-crop raising range from 37 million acres
(about the size of Georgia) to 250 million (as big as Texas and New Mexico). The
theoretical yield is 6.6 to 8.8 tons of biomass per acre. Whether this is competitive
with fossil fuels or not, it is the OTA's opinion that "energy crops may still
be desirable if other benefits--such as environmental advantages, offsets of oil
imports or financial returns to the rural economy--justify the costs."
to the USDA, "The ethanol industry and some environmental groups maintain that
ethanol production would be fully competitive with gasoline if the full environmental
costs of petroleum production and use were considered. At these costs, which include
human health problems, become more apparent, the ethanol market may grow significantly.
As this process takes place, new research findings that improve production economics
could result in a variety of other resources, such as dairy whey and wood chips,
joining corn as feedstocks for the fuel ethanol industry in the United States."
some point, biofuels will contribute to a reduced demand for petroleum, contributing
to lower or stable petroleum prices. The development of biofuels should not pit
propetroleum against antipetroleum forces, but instead should improve US leverage
with the rest of the world.
three to four tons per acre, hemp would not seem competitive with the theoretical
yields from herbaceous and woody crops, but no one has yet realized those theoretical
yields. However, these are developmental crops slated for optimum environmental
niches. The technology developed to exploit them will make hemp more competitive
as an energy source.
DOE's Herbaceous Energy Crop Program is evaluating a number of grasses, including
Bahia grass, Bermuda grass, eastern gama grass, Johnson grass, napier (elephant)
grass, reed canary grass, rye, Sudan grass, switchgrass, tall fescue, timothy
and weeping love grass. Legumes such as alfalfa, bird's-foot trefoil, crown vetch,
flatpea, clover and sericae lespedeza are also being investigated. At present,
these crops are yielding 3 to 7 tons of biomass per acre. Fiber crop expert James
Dempsey reports that hemp produces 6.6 tons of dry, unprocessed stalks (producing
17 percent fiber and tow by weight if processed). Hemp is competitive with other
herbaceous energy crops as a source for biomass.
won't provide our bioenergy needs; nor will sugarcane, another cellulose-rich
crop. If these crops were viable, then the government wouldn't be experimenting
with gama grass and clover. Solid municipal waste is 40% cellulose. Hemp stalks,
though, are nearly 80% cellulose and pentosan (a sugar, also known as hemicellulose,
convertible to cellulose).
chemistry of transforming cellulose-rich natural products into ethanol is not
new. The process, hydrolysis, is nearly 100 years old. A new process, enzymatic
hydrolysis, is under development and will produce greater yields and fewer waste
technological developments that promise to bring down the cost of ethanol production
include novel harvesting methods, crop management, separation-process improvements,
improved enzymes, genetic-engineering advances and pretreatments that will also
of the complications in producing ethanol from natural cellulose sources is the
need to remove the lignin, the natural glue that holds vegetable material together.
The DOE has been working for several years on a process to directly convert ligno-cellulose
to ethanol without removing the lignin first. The Terrestrial Energy Corporation
research activity takes place at the Oak Ridge national laboratory in Tennessee,
and will have a major effect on hemp's economic viability as a source for bioenergy.
Microorganisms are being developed there to speed up the conversion of cellulose
and hemicellulose to sugars, which can then be converted to alcohol. The DOE hopes
to cut the cost of ethanol from biomass to just 67 cents per gallon by the year
to the conclusion of the DOE's 1992 Yearbook, "Making liquid transportation fuels
from biomass economically and in large quantities could provide the nation with
a renewable source of fuel while reducing our dependence on imported oil. New
technologies have made it possible to produce liquid fuels in large quantities,
and in some cases the economics are becoming more favorable. However, the most
important developments in technology and commercialization lie ahead. The greatest
challenges are to learn how to utilize biomass material in a way that produces
the maximum possible amount of fuel at the minimum cost."
line: The United States has 60 million acres of idle arable land. Energy crops
tend to prevent erosion, so the goal is to use those 60 million acres to experiment
with different energy crops and different ways of integrating land and technology
to produce energy. While the theoretical standard for bulk biomass production
exceeds the standards for hemp production, hemp is very competitive with the actual
yields of experimental energy crops. Factor in hemp's diverse ecological adaptability,
and it becomes a very appealing energy crop.
FUEL FROM SEED OIL
use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such
oils may become in the course of time as important as petroleum," declared Rudolf
Diesel in 1912.
fuels will not power diesel motors, but vegetable oil will. According to the DOE,
"Biodiesel's major advantage is that it is environmentally clean. Unlike conventional
diesel fuel, biodiesel contains neither sulfur nor aromatics. Aromatics contribute
to particulate emissions.... Biodiesel is biodegradable."
1990, a French company displayed an engine that ran on peanut oil. At the end
of World War II, the Japanese navy stored soybean oil to fuel the 65,000-ton battleship
are intrigued because unlike ethanol, vegetable-oil extraction requires no distiller's
license. The process requires less water and energy than ethanol production, and
produces a high-protein meal as a byproduct. Oilseed fuels have a low sulfur content,
are safe to store and do not cause skin ailments.
the authoritative Oil Crops Of The World, oilseed-energy expert G.R. Quick reports
that, "Initially, engine performance has been encouraging with most of these candidate
diesel-fuel alternatives. Short-term tests on both DI [direct injection] and IDI
[indirect injection] engines show that power output, torque and brake thermal
efficiency on oilseed fuels were similar to those when the same engine was used
on diesel fuel. Fuel consumption is usually somewhat higher due to the lower heat-energy
of the oil."
problems with using vegetable oils to fuel direct-injection engines included start-up
problems in cold weather and fouled injector tips in the engines after sustained
operation. Technical aids can help with the starting problems, but the fouled
injector tips are a result of high viscosity, and this could be a problem for
hemp oil: Carbon builds up in the injector holes, interfering with the spray pattern
of the fuel and affecting the combustion. Engine power declines and exhaust smoke
and engine misfiring increase.
is a measure of the oil's thickness, particularly of its resistance to flow. Vegetable
oil flows faster at room temperature, for example, than petroleum motor oil does.
Relatively high viscosity is characteristic of vegetable-oil fuels (except for
castor oil). One response is frequent maintenance, such as replacement of the
injector tips. Another strategy has been to lower the oil's viscosity by blending
it with mineral distillates. Also, heating oils lowers their viscosity; fuel heaters
can use engine coolant as a heating medium.
and heating do not solve all these problems, and viscosity is not their only cause.
Oils that have similar viscosities can produce injection-tip fouling at different
rates. Oils with high unsaturated fats, such as linseed oil, are the most conducive
to injector-tip fouling. An engine that will run for 100 hours on rapeseed or
sunflower oil will last only about 10 hours on linseed oil. Hemp oil, unfortunately,
is also high in unsaturated fats, and would seem unlikely to be competitive with
other oils as a source of biodiesel fuel for direct-injection engines.
the DI engine, fuel is injected directly into a combustion chamber. However, in
the indirect-injection engine, the combustion takes place in an antechamber. Large
tractors tend to be DI engines, while IDI engines are more elaborate and quieter.
engines run on vegetable-oil fuels without significant problems. South African
engineers have run unmodified Deutz tractors with IDI engines for 3,000 hours,
with some attention to fuel filtration. Quick also reports similar results with
Caterpillar tractors in Brazil. The two manufacturers have qualified their warranties
in those countries, respectively, for machines operated on vegetable fuels.
engineers have confirmed that even highly unsaturated linseed oil will fuel an
IDI engine without problem, after testing an engine for 200 hours. Hemp oil, used
as a biodiesel fuel, should be capable of operating indirect-injection engines
without abnormal component wear to the engine.
MODIFICATION OF VEGETABLE OILS
oils have additional promise as a fuel source after chemists get their hands on
them. They contain molecular structures called triglycerides, which are made up
of fatty acids and glycerol, one of many alcohols. By 1938, scientists had realized
that the fatty acids in vegetable oil were more valuable as fuel oil without the
glycerides. During World War II, the Chinese made a crude form of such "veg-diesel"
fuel using tung and rapeseed oil.
process has been refined and patented, and is called esterification. Quick explains:
"The process involves the transformation of the large, branched triglyceride molecules
of bio-oils and fats into smaller, straight-chain molecules, similar in size to
components of diesel fuel." The oil is filtered and preprocessed to remove free
fatty acids. Then it is mixed with methanol and a catalyst, usually sodium or
potassium hydroxide. The esters and the glycerols can then be separated from each
other and purified.
Africa has conducted extensive research on esterification. One response to the
economic embargo in 1978 was a crash program to develop sunflower oil as an answer
to their farm diesel-fuel supply problems. The bad news is that esters are organic
solvents, and widespread ester-fuel specifications will be needed for large-scale
fuel use. Esters also form crystals at cold temperatures. Many engine issues remain
to be resolved regarding their use as fuel, but the good news is that the problems
are worth solving.
fuels do not cause injector-fouling in DI engines, and have consistently better
characteristics. Esters can be used as an agent for mixing fuel with alcohol,
and can be produced in small-scale plants. The viscosities of vegetable-oil esters
are similar to diesel fuel's. Esterification, though, increases the cost by up
is thus the limiting factor. In 1992, biodiesel cost about $2 per gallon, diesel
about 70 cents. Still, development continues. The Italian Ferruzzi-Montedison
industrial conglomerate completed a 17-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel plant
in Italy in 1992, and also set up a demonstration program in South Dakota.
to the USDA, peanuts, sunflowers and rapeseed produce 75 gallons of oil per acre;
soybeans give 40 gallons and cottonseed 20 gallons. Hemp yields 30 gallons of
oil per acre. Over 50 million acres would be needed to supplant the 3 billion
gallons of petroleum diesel fuel used every year for agricultural purposes.
petroleum prices, increasing oilseed crop yields and increasingly strict environmental
regulations all encourage larger-scale biodiesel plants, such as a 3-million-gallon-per-year
plant in Australia and a planned 7-million-gallon plant. Austrian farmers have
successfully operated a seed-oil co-op, transforming their canola and sunflower
oil into biodiesel for their own use.
John Irkerd of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Missouri
favors the small-scale approach for the near future: "There is a real possibility
of community-level, if not on-farm, processing of the oil to turn it into a competitive
substitute for diesel fuel for farm tractors, with the meal being used locally
for livestock feed." This might be a greater commitment than most farmers are
willing to make, and large-scale plants provide tremendous technological sophistication,
which is important for quality control of the byproducts.
to the USDA, all the oil from oilseed crops is valuable to biodiesel efforts:
"Currently the United States squeezes 13 billion pounds of oil from soybeans and
another 1 billion pounds of oil from the corn crop each year. For both of these
prime sources of vegetable oil, the crop is grown for other purposes, with the
oil (18 percent for soybeans, 5 percent for corn) as a byproduct. Other potential
biodiesel crops with a higher oil content include industrial rapeseed, canola,
crambe, safflower and sunflower--all presumably could be bred for still-higher
yields and oil content if biodiesel provided a market."
contains 35 percent oil, and like linseed oil has a high iodine value, an indication
that it is high in unsaturated fats. Many alternative crops have seed-oil content
between 30 and 50 percent, so hemp is competitive. Seed-oil yields vary. Jojoba
plants provide a yield of 3,000 pounds per acre, but only after the shrubs are
10 years old. Rapeseed produces 2,500 pounds per acre, and crambe 1,500. The British
report seed yields from hemp of 1,200 to 1,500 lbs/acre in India. (The Council
of Scientific and Industrial Resources in 1950 published a 13-volume encyclopedia
titled The Wealth of India, which contains technical specifications on thousands
of plants and raw materials, including cannabis.)
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF BIOENERGY CROP PRODUCTION
energy crops require less intensive care than conventional crops. Heavier and
deeper rooting patterns allow the soil to be utilized at a greater depth, increasing
access to nutrients and water. The heavier rooting places more carbon in the soil,
improving the nutrient-release capability of the soil. Many energy crops also
consume less input energy (such as light) per unit of energy stored than do many
specialty-plant components. Grasses and shrubs require less fertilizer because
they are not annual plants and do not need to re-establish root systems each year.
major problem is the lack of crop-specific data. There are so many environmental
variables that it is hard to apply general characteristics to specific plants.
More than anything else, this argues for USDA-conducted hemp research programs.
A case on hemp, for or against, must be based on contemporary research data, and
the case for hemp must be compared with the cases for other alternative crops.
Congressional Office of Technology Assessment published a background paper in
1993 discussing the environmental concerns of energy-crop farming: "Energy crops
with limited tillage and which return large quantities of organic matter (e.g.,
leaf litter) to the soil can improve soil quality compared with those that rely
on frequent tillage or complete removal of crop residues. Such a protective layer
of vegetative cover helps to provide shading, maintain soil moisture content,
prevent erosion and may offer other environmental services." Deep roots improve
quality is affected by the levels of fertilizers used in agriculture to the extent
there is seepage. The deep roots of hemp and other energy crops helps to prevent
such runoff, and according to the OTA, "Energy crops may offer a tool not previously
available to help deal with some of these water-quality issues," including contamination,
water-table changes and runoff.
environmental issues need to be faced. What will the transportation and processing
of these raw materials produce in terms of air pollution? What will be the effect
on wildlife habitats of converting tens of millions of acres of land to energy
cropping? There are no easy answers, and advocates of biofuel must realize that
complex, substantial problems remain to be solved.
WHY NOT HEMP?
national biofuels program is a long-term effort that relies on extensive research
and development. This effort represents a significant investment by the federal
government in achieving its bioenergy objectives. Its purpose is to discover more
about the energy capability of plants high in cellulose and seed oil. Hemp is
rich in both.
should ask your congressional representatives why the United States isn't studying
hemp for this purpose. Do not accept excuses that this or that other crop produces
more fiber, better oil or more biomass. The USDA is studying dozens of plants,
many with overlapping potentials. If they deserve study, why not hemp? Do not
accept excuses that the plant lacks modern economic value, for technological developments
are providing many old products with new value. Again, why not hemp?
provides just as much usable cellulose and seed oil as many other plants being
developed as energy crops, but uniquely produces two energy-source materials from
a single plant. There are plants that produce more biomass or more seed oil than
cannabis, but how many can provide both at once, in one plant?
AND THE NEW ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES
TWO: HEMP'S NEW FRIENDS
fulminating debate over the Hemp Question has polarized between those traditionalists
(like the DEA) who maintain that the weed exists exclusively to poison children,
and revisionists (like Jack Herer in The Emperor Wears No Clothes), who prophesy
that hemp will be the salvation of humanity in the 21st century's ecological crises.
Jon Gettman, in his ongoing series on the practical economics and geopolitics
of hemp's irresistible industrial development, cleaves to a middle view: Money
will be made from this plant in the near future, big money, legal money, and here's
exactly how it will come to pass.
1927, journalist Wheeler McMillen prophesied in Farm And Fireside magazine: "Perhaps
already you button your shirt and comb your hair with milk from your own cows.
Some of these days--not yet, but in time--you may run your tractor and automobile
with your own grain and potatoes, paint your buildings with your own soybeans,
read magazines and newspapers printed on your own cornstalks and straw and listen
through radio horns and telephone receivers made out of your own corncobs and
was a pioneer in advancing utilization research in the United States in the 20th
century. Currently we are fortunate enough to be living in an era in which his
vision is taking shape before our very eyes, as our country develops brilliant
new industrial uses for both traditional and novel planetary resources. The development
of these resources as "feedstocks" for industry and commerce--for new textiles,
fuels, nontoxic industrial agents, foods and medicines--is proceeding apace, and
as we showed here in Part One of this series, cannabis hemp will inevitably be
recognized as a major element in this 21st-century industrial revolution.
United States is committed to developing several agricultural sources for industrial
raw materials, and any hope of reintroducing hemp here rests with the success
of this broad program. First, let's look at several novel plants currently in
development for industrial uses, and see how they stack up next to hemp.
alternative crops now in development fall into three categories: seed-oil, rubber
and fiber crops. Vegetable seed-oils contain triglycerides, a chemical combination
of glycerol and fatty acids, which are industrially transformed into thousands
of products. The oils that dominate world trade contain palmitic (16), stearic
(18), oleic (18:1) and linoleum acids (18:2). The numbering system designates
the number of carbon atoms, followed by the number of double bonds in the molecular
organization. Hemp oil, it turns out, contains high concentrations of linoleic
acid (18:2) and linolenic acid (18:3)--the two most prevalent polyunsaturated
fatty acids used in industry.
lesquerella, rapeseed and crambe are occasionally described as oils with superior
characteristics to hempseed oil, and consequently as reasons why there is no need
to encourage hemp cultivation as a seed-oil feedstock. But these oils have different
compositions from hempseed oil, which is primarily composed of polyunsaturated
fatty acids. Each of these oils has individual strengths revealed through basic
and applied research. Lesquerella is a source of ricinoleic acid, rapeseed a source
for erucic acid and jojoba a replacement for sperm-whale oil. Vegetable oils consist
of various combinations of all three types of fatty acids. Soybean oil consists
of 55 percent linoleic acid and 7 percent linolenic acid; rapeseed oil is 20 percent
linoleic and 55 percent linolenic acid. Hempseed oil is 43 percent linoleic and
21 percent linolenic acid.
economics of the seed-oil market will be influenced by the baseline value of any
seed oil as a biodiesel source and/or the value of other specific byproducts.
Castor oil, for example, when used as a lubricant, is unaffected by petroleum
solvents and remains stable under extremes of heat, cold and pressure. Its key
ingredients, ricinoleic and sebacic acids, have been classified as strategic materials
by the Department of Defense.
United States imports 75 million pounds of castor oil annually from Brazil and
India. Therefore, the Department of Agriculture is supporting attempts to grow
castor-bean plants and a new crop, lesquerella, in the Southwest. Lesquerella
oil contains fatty acids similar but not identical to the ricinoleic acid in castor
oil. Like castor oil, it has use as a feedstock for nylon, plastics, soaps and
oil is currently imported from Canada and Eastern Europe. The USA spends $10 million
annually on 40 million pounds of rapeseed oil used in plastic film, as an automotive
and industrial lubricant and as cutting oils. The food-use version is produced
by the crambe plant and is known as canola oil.
rapeseed and crambe oil contain large amounts of a long-carbon-chain erucic acid
that is used in plastic trash bags, zip-lock sandwich bags and transmission-fluid
additives. In addition to use as a feedstock for biodiesel fuel, new uses for
rapeseed oil include paints and coatings, nylon-1313, plastics and hard waxes.
meal produced from rapeseed-oil extraction, like castor meal, contains unhealthy
glucosinolates. While these natural pesticides make it useful as a fertilizer,
commercial development requires further research to make it a healthy feed for
livestock. Detoxification technologies are being tested on both castor and lesquerella
meal, and will enable other protein-rich oil byproducts (like hemp's) to compete
in the feed-meal market.
(pronounced "ho-ho-ba") oil, derived from the jojoba bean, is a substitute for
sperm-whale oil, as both are natural liquid oils with similar properties, though
jojoba oil has greater purity. Cosmetics and toiletries account for 90 percent
of jojoba-oil use today. A perennial evergreen with a life expectancy of 40 years,
jojoba does well in the arid Southwest, though it takes three to five years to
mature before the first harvest. The current US production of jojoba is 2,500
tons of seed from 15,000 acres of bushes. The seeds are 50 percent oil, and eight-year-old
plants yield 1,200 pounds per acre. The USA exports 70 percent of the jojoba oil
produced in each year.
potential uses of jojoba oil include pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, lubricants, wax
replacements, printing inks, paint, linoleum, varnishes and antifoam agents. Competitors
for the USA include jojoba producers in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Israel,
Paraguay and Peru.
an annual hibiscus fiber-plant grown in the Southwest as a source of newsprint
pulp (and also for rope, twine, sackage and poultry litter), has also been held
out as superior to hemp in terms of biomass and fiber. Kenaf yields six to eight
tons of pulp per acre, and could replace $6 billion in newsprint imports. Current
acreage is 4,100 acres, and this could grow to 5,000,000 acres over the next 20
years. A kenaf harvester has been designed, and other advances in processing this
bast-fiber plant could aid in the processing of hemp. It is also grown in the
former Soviet Union, in India, China, Taiwan, Iran, Nigeria, Thailand and elsewhere.
(pronounced "gwa-yoo-le"), a perennial shrub fond of the Southwest, is a source
of natural rubber. The United States imports $1 billion of natural rubber from
Southeast Asia annually for a lot of products, including high-performance tires
for military aircraft. Forecasters expect a rubber shortage over the next 10 years
as plantations in Southeast Asia switch to coconut and oil-palm crops.
years ago, many believed that synthetic rubber would replace the need for natural
rubber completely. They were wrong. Natural rubber is better, and so are many
of the products derived from renewable agricultural crops. The benefits derived
from these renewable crops, including hemp, depend on emerging technologies that
enhance their value.
USES FOR OLD CROPS
introduction of new crops as industrial feedstocks should not be viewed as reasons
to neglect development of hemp for these purposes, any more than new methods of
exploiting traditional crops should be regarded as unusable for the exploitation
of hemp. Indeed, the historical experience of many of these crops virtually ordains
the resumption of hemp development in the immediate future to exploit its unique,
and uniquely varied, industrial potential.
represent one of American agriculture's major success stories. Before World War
II, the USA imported 40 percent of the fats and oils it used. Having planted 15.6
million acres of soybeans in 1950, the nation now grows 58 million acres of soybeans
a year, producing 91 billion pounds of soybean meal and 21 billion pounds of vegetable
oil. An acre of soybeans produces about 33 bushels, which provide 350 pounds of
oil per acre.
oil is high in linoleic acid, as is hemp oil, providing a feedstock for the production
of plasticizers (for pliability), stabilizers (to resist chemical change), emulsifiers
(to help mix unmixable liquids), surfactants (to reduce surface tension of liquids
and metals) and other fundamental industrial products. Enzymes and microorganisms
can be used to convert the fatty acids in soybean oil to other valuable acids,
such as ricinoleic acid, previously available only in imported castor oil.
ink is rapidly gaining use as an alternative to petroleum-based inks. The US government
announced plans in 1994 to use soy-based inks for most of its own considerable
printing operations. Economics make soybean the oil of choice at the present time,
but many soy-related products can be derived from other seed-oil sources, like
is 72 percent carbohydrates. Most corn is grown as feed grain for livestock and
to provide byproducts such as corn oil and cornstarch. An acre of corn yields
an average of 113 bushels, and every bushel of corn contains 40 pounds of cornstarch.
The starch is used for corn syrup and ethanol. Like cellulose, starch is composed
of natural sugars. These sugars are absorbent, and research is under way to maximize
this absorbency potential in diapers, filters and batteries. Corn oil is a feedstock
for plastics and other products.
corn stalk is 47 percent crude fiber, the cobs are 37 percent fiber and corn stover
(leaves) are 37 percent fiber. Research is under way at Department of Energy laboratories
to develop microoganisms that will detach crude cellulosic fibers from the lignin,
or natural glue, which holds the plant together; this will enable more of the
entire plant to be used as biomass for energy production.
purpose of new uses for corn and corn products is to provide long-term stability
for corn prices by increasing demand. Yet if demand for corn is increased too
much, it could increase other food prices. (Corn is used to feed livestock, and
so rising corn prices will increase the cost of meat.) New technologies for corn
products provide new uses for corn, but more important, they provide new uses
for raw materials that are derived from corn--natural sugars and fibers--which
can also be derived from hemp.
from any source can be used to create biodegradable plastics and ethanol. Carbonless
paper relies on encapsulated ink made from wheat starch. Recently, scientists
have been able to separate wheat starch into large and small component starch
granules. Upon separation, the small granules can be used as a feedstock for fully
biodegradable plastics, industrial chemicals, capsules for medicines and cosmetics.
The market will decide the prices for various commodities as starch feedstocks
for industrial raw materials, whether they be corn, wheat, potatoes, potato peelings,
hemp or sugarcane.
nonfood uses of dairy products will amaze anyone outside the state of Wisconsin.
According to the USDA, "Milk components can be used in manufacturing such products
as: alcohol, lactic or acetic acids, penicillin, polyurethane foam for use in
insulation and packaging materials, urea-formaldehyde resin adhesives, emulsion
stabilizers, fat replacements in food, premium paper coatings, photographic film,
edible-protein packaging films, nontoxic industrial lubricants for food-manufacturing
equipment, water repellents, emulsifiers and gels." And most of the same components
that can be extracted from raw milk for these industrial purposes--starches, fatty
acids, etc.--can also be extracted from raw hemp.
TECHNOLOGIES FOR HEMP
there is an agri-techno revolution underway. Give our scientists a plant that
will grow abundantly in the United States, and they'll figure out how to use that
plant to provide Americans with work and disposable income. The technological
advances under way to provide new uses for traditional crops and to utilize new
crops for industrial materials provide numerous new applications for the cellulose
and vegetable oil produced by the cannabis plant. There is no better argument
that it is now time for the US government to resume basic and applied research
into the industrial uses of the raw materials produced by the hemp plant.
really knows what products and applications can be derived from hemp until it
can be properly studied and analyzed? The new crops and technologies reviewed
above indicate great promise for cellulose, starch, and seed-oil crops as industrial
feedstocks. Hemp stalks contain 77 percent cellulose and hemicellulose; hemp seeds
contain 35 percent oil that is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids.
and cellulose are alike composed of glucose chains. Starch has different linkages
than cellulose, making it more water-soluble and thus digestible by humans. Plant-derived
cellulose derivatives are already in use in the United States in a variety of
applications, including use as thickeners, binders, stabilizers, suspending agents
and flow-control agents. Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) is used in biotechnology
for separating molecules. Another derivative, hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) is used
by the oil industry as a thickener in drilling fluids. Hydroxypropyl-methylcellulose
(HPMC) is being investigated as an agent to lower blood-cholesterol levels.
reviewed in Part One of this series, various acid and enzymatic treatments are
being developed to convert cellulose into ethanol. According to the federal Office
of Technology Assessment, "Cellulose will no doubt continue to be a major material
feedstock for a wide spectrum of industries. Future research is likely to focus
on the development of new chemical derivatives and the creation of composites
that combine cellulose with other biodegradable materials." For example, modified
cellulose sutures may be available to surgeons in the near future, as will other
medical products such as novel drug-delivery systems.
there's the lignin which provides structural support to plant-cell walls. Vanillin,
the principal ingredient in artificial vanilla, is derived from lignin, and so
is a lot more. Thanks to their natural adhesive characteristics, lignosulfates
are used for road-dust control, as molding agents and in animal feed. Lignin derivatives
are used to prevent mineral buildup in cooling towers and as dispersing agents
in pesticide powders. There is also the potential to use lignin as a feedstock
for plastic manufacture. Hemp, of course, is rife with lignin.
THE MULTI-USE CROP
agricultural market is exceedingly complex, but inevitably gives way to larger
market realities. The ultimate answer to all predictions, though, is to let the
market decide. In the case of hemp, the question is not whether it can compete
or not in the modern market, but when will the government let the market decide
grows in more diverse ecosystems than many of the crops reviewed above. For example,
while few of the new crops in development will grow in the Shenandoah Valley of
Virginia, hemp certainly will. Hemp has always flourished throughout the United
may produce more fiber than hemp, but it only grows in the Southwest. Rapeseed
may produce more oil, but it is dedicated for high erucic-acid-dependent use.
Corn may produce ethanol more economically, but increasing demand for corn will
increase food prices across the board.
many alternative crops now in development, hemp can provide two commodities for
the price of one--cellulose and seed oil.
will bring a farmer $265 in gross revenue per acre farmed (based on average yields
of 113 bushels per acre and current prices of $2.35 per bushel). Wood chips currently
bring five cents per pound as a feedstock, while vegetable oilseeds sell for over
20 cents. Hemp as a source of crude raw materials will provide more revenue per
acre than corn at half these prices. Ignoring the value of the hemp fiber for
textile fabric, an acre of hemp will produce 8,000 pounds of dry cellulosic biomass.
Seed yields from an acre of hemp are estimated at 1,300 pounds. At 2.5 cents per
pound for the biomass and 10 cents per pound for the seeds, an acre of hemp provides
$330 in revenue, or $65 more than corn.
is true that hemp grown for biomass would be harvested before the female flowers
produce mature seeds for the planting of the next season's crop; otherwise the
male plants, which die earlier than the females, might be lost or damaged. But
a self-pollinating hemp plant has already been developed, and who knows what else
will be produced by breeding and genetic engineering?
any event, if the plant has compelling value at half of its competitors' prices,
doesn't that indicate some promising potential?
ideal nonmedical utilization of the hemp plant is as follows: The flowers contain
seeds with 35 percent oil, to be used for fuel and as a source of epoxy fatty
acids for plastics and other industrial products. The oil-extracted meal is used
as feed for livestock or as fertilizer. The leaves of the plant are left on-site
as natural nitrogen to replenish the soil. The stalks are harvested and have their
high-quality bast fibers removed for specialized textile use, and the remaining
hurds (over three tons per acre of high-cellulose-content chips) are used as a
biomass feedstock for ethanol and other cellulosic applications.
technologies will process the hemp oil into diesel fuel, using microemulsification,
pyrolysis or transesterification. Various enzymes and microorganisms are being
developed to make the conversion of the stalks and/or hurds into sugars and ethanol
more economically efficient. Technology developed to provide new uses for crops
as sources for industrial raw materials will provide the means for farmers to
realize new economic security by growing hemp in 21st-century America.
major source for this article is the USDA publication New Industrial Uses, New
Markets for US Crops: Status of Technology and Commercial Adoption, prepared by
Jonathan Harsch for the Cooperative State Research Service.