USING INDUSTRIAL HEMP FOR ENERGY

USING INDUSTRIAL HEMP FOR ENERGY

Many enthusiasts have been promoting the use of industrial hemp for producing bioenergy for a long time now. With its potentially high biomass yield and its suitability to fit into existing crop rotations, hemp could not only complement but exceed other available energy crops.

HEMP – A VERSATILE RESOURCE

Bioenergy is currently the fastest growing source of renewable energy. Cultivating energy crops on arable land can decrease dependency on depleting fossil resources and it can mitigate climate change. But some biofuel crops have bad environmental effects, as they use too much water, displace people and create more emissions than they save. This has led to a demand for high-yielding energy crops with low environmental impact. Industrial hemp is said to be just that.

Energy use of industrial hemp is today very limited. There are few countries in which hemp has been commercialised as an energy crop. Sweden is one, and has a small commercial production of hemp briquettes – which are more expensive than wood-based briquettes, but sell reasonably well on regional markets.

Biogas production from hemp could compete with production from maize, especially in cold climate regions such as Northern Europe and Canada. Ethanol production is possible from the whole hemp plant, and biodiesel can be produced from the oil pressed from hemp seeds. Biodiesel production from hemp seed oil has been shown to overall have a much lower environmental impact than fossil diesel.

LET BIOENERGY BECOME A STANDARD

The car industry’s interest in light, natural fibre promoted its use. For such industrial use, modern varieties with insignificant content of psychoactive compounds are grown. Nonetheless, industrial hemp cultivation is still prohibited in some industrialised countries like Norway and the USA.

Small-scale production of hemp briquettes has also proven economically feasible. However, using whole-crop hemp (or any other crop) for energy production is not the overall solution.

Before producing energy from the residues it is certainly more environmentally friendly to use fibres, oils or other compounds of hemp. Even energy in the fibre products can be used when the products become waste. Recycling plant nutrients to the field, such as in biogas residue, can contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions from crop production.

Sustainable bioenergy production is not easy, and a diversity of crops will be needed. Industrial hemp is not the ultimate energy crop. Still, if cultivated on good soil with decent fertilisation, hemp can certainly be an environmentally sound crop for bioenergy production and for other industrial uses as well.

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