This writeup is 100% free of dendrophiliac feces.
For some background/additional reading, see this, this, this, this, and this.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are both varieties of the cannabis sativa plant; the only real difference between the two is the THC content. Marijuana contains up to 15% THC, while industrial hemp, by definition, contains less than 1% THC by weight. (In other words, too little THC to get even the most determined pothead high.) Industrial hemp (here meaning C. sativa varieties containing less than .3% THC) production has recently been legalized in Canada, Australia0, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the U.K; in many other countries, it has never been illegal. Several U.S. states have studied the feasibility of industrial hemp cultivation and, in 1999, Hawaii planted the first (legal) U.S. hemp crop since the 1950s. Though the U.S. currently prohibits industrial hemp cultivation, imports of hemp products (fibers, oil, etc.) containing less than .3% THC are perfectly legal—though seeds, of course, must be sterile.1
Biodiesel: A quick guide
Biodiesel is, in layman's terms, vegetable oil converted (with methanol and an alkaline catalyst) into something very much like normal diesel. It has been approved as an alternative fuel by the EPA and the Department of Energy, and has been proven to reduce most types of harmful emissions. Any diesel engine can handle the stuff, though older models—which use types of rubber not designed to handle low-sulfur diesel—may be damaged. Normal diesel tanks will serve for biodiesel with little or no modification, though biodiesel—being much more biodegradable than "petrodiesel"—becomes unusable after about six months. Since diesel rarely sits in storage for six months, this may not be a problem. Biodiesel also has a higher flash point than normal diesel (for what that's worth—diesel isn't nearly as inflammable as, say, gasoline) and is less corrosive. Finally, it is produced from organic, renewable resources. It has its drawbacks: the aforementioned degradation, damage to older diesel engines—in addition to damaging rubber components, its slight solvent effects can break up mineral deposits in fuel tanks, causing clogs—and its tendency to solidify at low temperatures.
Biodiesel is good stuff.
Hemp plants can produce about half a ton of seeds per acre, but such production is currently expensive—Canadian-grown hemp seeds cost about $.41 American per pound, while other common oil crops (soybeans, canola, and flax) average $.10 per pound. Hemp seeds are about 30% oil, soybeans contain about 18% oil2, canola upwards of 30%3, and flax about 41%4. Thus hemp is, except in price, the equal of any other common oil crop. It is not without its problems—the oil degrades even more quickly than other vegetable oils and, as mentioned, it is much more expensive than current oil crops. Hemp biodiesel, as recently proven by the hemp car, would be a viable source of energy. However, it does not appear to offer any significant advantages5 over other biodiesel sources. To quote Jenna Higgins of the National Biodiesel Board:
"[H]emp-based biodiesel now is really just a novelty, while biodiesel itself isn’t a novelty[.]"6
0kalen informs me that while hemp is "legal" in Oz, the necessary permits are very difficult to obtain. The same, I suppose, goes for the United States; hemp cultivation is legal for research purposes, but one must jump through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops to get permission.
5Hemp, of course, has other legitimate uses—but so do flax and soybeans. Since hemp isn't yet cultivated as widely as the other named crops, the question of whether it would be a better oil crop than the other plants is still undecided—at current prices, it is not superior; if the price were to drop, it might become so.
6Quoted in the Columbia Daily Tribune; article extracted from http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread10863.shtm
Research is fun.
- The National Biodiesel Board website at http://biodiesel.org
- Industrial Hemp in the United States: Status and Market Potential, a report by the USDA: http://ers.usda.gov/publications/ages001e/
- The North American Industrial Hemp Council website at www.naihc.org
- Other sources, mentioned in footnotes.