A Sustainable Alternative to Fossil Fuels: Hemp & Biofuel
The environmental and social costs of our dependence on fossil fuels are high. Change is needed to create a more healthy, sustainable future. Guest author Grace Kaucic from Bluebird Botanicals explains why hemp biofuel is an excellent eco-friendly alternative.
The World Runs on Fossil Fuels
As much as Dunkin’ Donuts would love to claim otherwise, the world runs on fossil fuels... and it has for a long time. Three main fossil fuels, to be exact: coal, gas, and oil.
These three elements have been used by humans since ancient times; the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese were some of the earliest known to use small quantities of these fuels for industrial purposes. Then, with the Industrial Revolution in the 17th century, their use in daily life skyrocketed. Coal powered much of Britain in the 1700s and a century later, was joined by gas and oil on the American front.
Today, these three main types of fuel are crucial to the world’s industrial activity as well as everyday life – from lighting and heating to transportation for billions of people. However, environmental safety has become a rather alarming concern as of late, and many fingers are pointing at one main culprit: fossil fuel.
Fossil Fuels: the Cost
Fossil fuel is a costly resource from every angle and at every stage of its use. Coal, for example, is extracted through either underground or surface mining. Underground mining is most costly for the miners, who frequently suffer or die from either collapsing tunnels or serious diseases like black lung cancer. Surface mining poses more of a devastating effect on the environment as it involves stripping away the top layer of soil and vegetation like trees to expose the coal underneath. This practice not only permanently damages the area it’s mined in, but also impacts surrounding ecosystems as excess rock and soil are dumped carelessly in nearby areas and wildlife are forced to relocate.
Gas and oil are no more innocent. These fuels can be extracted in numerous ways, all of which are incredibly detrimental to land, wildlife, human health, and the atmosphere. Fracking and offshore drilling, in particular, have been making more headlines in the past decade as they are the most common extraction methods but also the most all-around destructive. Fracking is the process of drilling into the earth and blasting rock with a high-pressure liquid to release the natural gas inside. The fracking process almost always contaminates surrounding water supplies with unearthed heavy metals and chemical runoff from the machinery. This “waste water” poses an incredible health risk to neighboring communities as consuming the chemicals found in this contaminated water can cause damage to the neurological, cardiovascular, and immune systems.
Hope is not lost though, as the ingenuity of mankind continues to surpass itself. As more become aware of the extreme long-term consequences of relying on fossil fuels, humans have begun to turn to more eco-friendly alternatives. One increasingly popular eco-friendly fuel source is biofuel.
There are two types of biofuel: biodiesel and ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol product derived from grains and sugar cane as well as from the biomass (inedible parts) of most plants. It is frequently used as a biofuel, but usually blended with gasoline.
According to Sensi Seeds, cars designed to run on gasoline can only tolerate a 10% addition of ethanol. Some Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFV) can use an up to 80% ethanol mix. Biodiesel, on the other hand, is derived from natural oils such animal fats and natural oils like soybean oil and...you guessed it, hemp seed oil. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the environmental benefits of biodiesel are substantially greater than those of ethanol. “Biodiesel provides 93% more net energy per gallon than is required for its production, while ethanol generates only 25% more net energy. Likewise, when compared with gasoline, biodiesel reduced greenhouse emissions by 41%, while ethanol yielded only a 12% reduction.
We already know that hemp is an incredibly versatile crop in many ways. This is especially true with its ability to be used as biofuel. Hemp can be turned into both ethanol and biodiesel using different methods. Furthermore, it has significant advantages over other sources of biofuel.
For beginners, hemp does not require the use of pesticides to be maintained. The hemp plant tends to grow very thick and dense, which prevents a lot of sun from reaching the soil and, in turn, prevents pests and weeds from taking root. In fact, hemp is often used as a natural, organic pesticide by being planted next to other crops like potatoes to keep out unwanted pests.
Additionally, hemp can be grown in a variety of soil types, even in less fertile areas. According to research done by Cornell University, hemp grows best in well-drained loam soil and requires less water throughout the season than many other crops like corn. It even requires less fertilizer, as around 70% of its nutrient requirements are returned to the soil during and after the growth cycle.
Says Sensi Seeds, “Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of hemp as a biofuel is the potential for using every part of the plant. Once oil is pressed from the seeds, the remaining hulls and seed matter can be compressed into ‘cakes’ for nutritious animal feed. Trim from harvesting and leaves which fall off during growth return to the soil, along with the roots, replenishing it for the next crop. The bast fibers and hurds are used for fiber, paper and building materials, to name but a few products.”
Hemp continues to reveal its expanding potential with each passing year. Especially with the growing popularity and use of hemp extracts for its multitude of health benefits, we continue to unlock a more healthy, sustainable future for society and our mother Earth.
Grace Kaucic is a digital marketing specialist at Bluebird Botanicals, a hemp CBD company in Louisville, Colorado. The core mission of Bluebird Botanicals is to make happy and healthy lifestyle radically accessible to all through expanding the accessibility of high-quality hemp products. Bluebird is a family-owned business committed to raising the standards of the hemp.