A sustainable source of energy usually isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of industrial hemp. However, it’s true that Cannabis Sativa L. can be processed to make biofuels, which could potentially replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary energy source. Not only could hemp biofuel majorly reduce harmful carbon emissions, it has the potential to benefit the Canadian economy, and help Canada achieve the goals of the Paris agreement, a UN mandate to fight climate change.

There are two types of biofuels: bioethanol and biodiesel. Bioethanol is an alcohol made from the fermentation of carbohydrates in crops high in starch or sugar, while biodiesel is made from the fats or oils of a plant via a process called transesterification. Hemp can produce both types of biofuel, making it an excellent source of renewable energy[1]. In a 2010 study from the University of Connecticut, hemp oil showed a 97 percent conversion rate to biodiesel[2], performing better than other crops that are also used to create biodiesel, such as canola and soybean[3]. Additionally, hemp has another major advantage over other biofuel crops, in that it is not primarily a food source. Utilizing hemp for biofuel production over food crops frees up valuable farming space and boosts food production efficiency[1].

Hemp Biofuels Chart on Hemp Federation

Currently, fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas dominate the energy sector in Canada. These energy sources have harmful environmental impacts in practically every area of the industry – from the ecosystem devastation that occurs while drilling or fracking, the possibility of oil spills during transportation via oil tankers or pipelines, to the carbon emissions released when they are burnt[4]. In contrast, hemp has none of these dangers, and even boasts some environmental benefits in its cultivation process. For example, during the growing phase, hemp removes a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the air, offsetting any emissions in its production by capturing it[3]. The plants also require little pesticides or herbicides[5].

Biofuel Picture on HempFederation

Burning traditional fossil fuels for power releases carbon dioxide, which traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere and contributes to the ongoing climate change crisis[4]. In the search for sustainable alternatives, sulfur content has been identified as an important factor in determining whether an energy source is environmentally friendly, as fuels with high sulfur content release pollutants when burnt. However, biofuels in general, including hemp biofuels, have negligible sulfur content[6]. Therefore, hemp biofuels release zero harmful emissions – a clear advantage over fossil fuels, which have had a devastating impact on the environment.

In addition to helping in the fight against climate change, the establishment of a hemp biofuel industry stands to massively benefit the Canadian economy. As a crop, hemp is flexible and multi-purpose: it has a fast growing period of around 4 months[3], requires less water than other crops[7], and can grow in infertile soil[2] and in most climates[5]. Thus, hemp can be grown all over Canada with relatively little cost and ease. In fact, Canada is already one of the largest hemp seed producers in the world[3]; with this abundance of crops, a hemp biofuel industry specifically could be established with minimal investment.

Finally, the environmental benefits of hemp biofuel can help Canada meet the goals of the UN’s Paris Agreement, which is dedicated to reducing nations’ impact on climate change. Signed in December 2015 and coming into force the following year, the Agreement aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help build a lower carbon, more sustainable future[8]. The use of hemp’s emission-free biofuels over traditional fossil fuels would eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, and its low-carbon production would aid in the path towards lowering carbon use.

Hemp biofuels do have a few drawbacks however, most notably the fact that 50 percent more biofuel is required to create the same amount of energy when compared to fossil fuels. The conversion process of hemp to the finished biofuel product is also more expensive than other biofuel crops[5]. Despite these potential hurdles, Canadian companies won’t be deterred from the great potential of hemp – in fact, last year the BC Hemp Corporation announced plans to build a bioethanol plant in Prince George, British Colombia[9]. With this and other burgeoning projects there is a good start in the industry in Canada, but hemp biofuel’s potential is far from fully realized.

Biofuel Picture on HempFederation

———————————————————————————————————

Sources

[1] “Hemp Biofuels: Hemp’s Energy Potential.” WayofLeaf. WayofLeaf, October 13, 2020.

[2] Buckley, Christine. “Hemp Produces Viable Biodiesel, Study Finds.” Phys.org. Phys.org, October 6, 2010.

[3] Parvez, Ashak Mahmud, Jonathan David Lewis, and Muhammad T. Afzal. “Potential of Industrial Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) for Bioenergy Production in Canada: Status, Challenges and Outlook.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 141 (2021): 110784.

[4] Denchak, Melissa. “Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts.” NRDC, June 29, 2018.

[5] Ledger, Emily. “The Environmental Benefits of Hemp: Hemp Fuel.” Canex, September 17, 2019.

[6] Alcheikh, Ahmad. “Advantages and Challenges of Hemp Biodiesel Production: A comparison of Hemp vs. Other Crops Commonly used for biodiesel production.” Master’s thesis, University of Gävle, 2015.

[7] Asquer, Carla, Emanuela Melis, Efisio Antonio Scano, and Gianluca Carboni. “Opportunities for Green Energy through Emerging Crops: Biogas Valorization of Cannabis Sativa L. Residues.” Climate 7, no. 12 (December 13, 2019): 142. .

[8] “The Paris Agreement.” Paris Agreement – Canada.ca. Government of Canada, January 6, 2016.

[9] Branco, Dave. “$2 billion bioethanol plant planned for Prince George.” CKPGToday.ca, May 21, 2020.