In an age of skyrocketing heating bills and $4-a-gallon gas, it is important to use every technology available to curb the use of foreign oil. Politicians spend a ton of time arguing about environmentally dangerous practices such as deep-water drilling while they keep other potentially prosperous initiatives completely off the table.
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One idea for new resources keeps popping up time and time again, only to be shot down by those on top: hemp biofuel. This promising energy resource would provide all the benefits of corn and soy biofuel while only requiring only a fraction of the acreage needed for current biofuel sources.
Despite widespread animosity surrounding hemp biofuel, some researchers are more than amenable to the idea.At the University of Connecticut, chemical engineering professor Richard Parnas has teamed up with students to build a refining plant that uses virgin hemp seed oil to create biodiesel. This research plant is expected to produce a full 200,000 gallons of biodiesel every year.
As Parnas’ research team builds an efficient refining plant, it also aims to conduct the research necessary to convince others to do the same. Preliminary tests are already providing convincing statistics. For example, while testing the hemp fuel, research students learned that it had an unbelievably efficient conversion rate of 97 percent. Parnas believes that biofuel could mean great things for the energy industry. And he is quick to point out that, despite an origin based in industrial hemp, there is little chance of drug abuse occurring during the production of hemp biofuel. “This stuff [industrial hemp] won’t get you high.”
Hemp’s environmentally friendly nature makes it a great addition to the current smorgasbord of energy resources. Unlike renewable plant resources, hemp can be grown on infertile croplands, thus protecting topsoild that is currently experiencing rapid degradation. Replacing soy and corn biofuels with hemp is also a matter of practicality, as the crop replacement allows fertile cropland to be saved for growing food.
While there are certainly environmental benefits to replacing traditional gasoline sources with biodiesel, these can be overshadowed by a number of unfortunate environmental costs. Those opposed to biodiesel often point out the fact that the production of large corn crops may use up more energy than is saved at the pump. This problem could easily be reversed if the corn and crops used to produce biodiesel were replaced with industrial hemp. Hemp does not require nearly the same energy output as corn or soy. Additionally, hemp is capable of producing over 10 times the amount of methanol as corn, allowing for a far more efficient use of land. In fact, only 6 percent of acreage in the continental United States would need to be farmed in order to cover all of the nation’s energy needs.
Hemp biodiesel may offer a viable solution to America’s overarching energy and environmental problems. As researchers like Richard Parnas continue to chip away at opponents’ arguments, a hemp fuel alternative may finally be within reach.