California: Hemp to Potentially Replace Reliance on Fossil Fuels
By Kevin W. McCarty, Daily Nexus
Humanity stands at a crossroads. For nearly two centuries, human civilization has seen its every facet transformed by the machinery of industrial development. During this period of rapid expansion, we have beheld the gracious power of cheap fossil fuels, namely petroleum oil, as our premier source of energy and electricity. But today we are witnessing crude oil prices skyrocket as many economists say we have already reached peak global oil production and will see increasing prices until the supply of petroleum is diminished. As a result, we must expect additional sources of renewable electrical power will sustain economic growth in the coming decades.
For most of human history, the hemp plant has been used as an integral crop of commerce and navigation. Cultures across the globe have utilized hemp as a source of food, rigging and building materials and paper pulp. It is, without a doubt, the most resilient and efficient plant the Earth has ever grown. But not until now has it become quite so necessary to realize the prohibition of hemp and cannabis must be suspended. The arguments against legalization do not stand trial when compared to the immense benefits.
In 1916, a man by the name of George Schlichten invented a machine called a decorticator, which could strip the fiber from any plant, separating it from the pulp. It was an attempt to replace the need for trees to make paper, and he was successful in making pulp for newsprint at half the cost. The invention was hailed as a revolutionary device — Popular Mechanics published an article calling hemp the ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’ — that had the potential to halt deforestation.
However, hemp became restricted for the first time in America by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, amid special interests by oil companies seeking to oust competition from the market, as they had just invented a way to turn trees into paper using toxic chemicals. Schlichten’s decorticator was making their method obsolete. Restriction of hemp was achieved under the guise of prohibition of a dangerous drug — called by the previously unheard name for the plant — marijuana. It was restricted without the consideration of the American Medical Association, which had been prescribing cannabis medicine for decades, even to many of the congressmen who outlawed it.
Hemp is the world’s most versatile plant. Over a 20-year period, one acre of hemp will grow the same amount of biomass as 4.1 acres of trees. Hemp contains 80 percent cellulose; wood produces 60 percent cellulose. It is drought-resistant, making it an ideal crop in the dry western regions of the country. It can yield 10 tons per acre in four months, and because it grows at such a rapid pace, it chokes out other weeds on its own; it does this with little to no chemical fertilizer assistance.
Incredibly, hempseed improves the soil on which it is sown. Yield has also been known to increase readily with subsequent harvests, making it a remarkably efficient and cheap harvesting process when compared with other agriculture.
By the process of pyrolysis, biomass material can be burned in a reactor to produce fuel oil. This method will produce 80 gallons of renewable gasoline fuel for every dry ton of biomass. This process also produces charcoal, with a heating value equivalent to coal when burned. This charcoal can be used as a raw material for organic fertilizer. The cellulose pulp from hemp can be used to make paper that lasts 100 times longer than wood paper.
Hemp pulp can also be made into composite material for plastics for industrial use. Hemp fibers are some of the strongest found in nature, and increase the durability of cement and other building materials. Hemp fiber can be used to make clothing and fabric. Hemp seed is extraordinarily nutritious, containing omega fatty-acids — which the American diet is lacking. Overall, the entire plant has great and diverse value to humans.
Hemp has the capacity to replace petroleum as a source of energy. Industrial geniuses like Henry Ford have long recognized the value of biomass fuel, calling it “the fuel of the future.” Ford constructed a car made from hemp plastic and ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. The plastic was lighter than steel and could withstand 10 times the impact without denting. Ford knew hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated. About six percent of contiguous United States land area put into cultivation for biomass could supply all current demands for oil and gas while maintaining a neutral carbon system.
Energy-farming can be the new green backbone of the American way for the 21st century and beyond as it once was before the age of cheap oil. This new system could be employed by massive, unregulated hemp energy farming, with the ethic of a new culture of conservation. The United Nations has reported the need to reform farming, especially to the degree of multi-functional operations that are both secure and sovereign and can be coordinated on a large scale for many different purposes. Hemp is the ideal crop for this task.
Daily Nexus drug columnist Kevin W. McCarty is lighting up to our green future.