Global warming is rapidly becoming a dire situation. It’s past time to start looking at alternatives to fossil fuels. Biofuels are becoming a very popular topic as we look for a workable alternative fuel. We need a fuel that will allow us to continue driving our cars, minivans, pickups, tractor-trailers, and locomotives. One of the latest concepts (latest being a comparative term), is the use of ethanol made from hemp.
Reducing Our Dependence On Fossil Fuels
The petroleum oil we use today is the result of the decomposition of animal and vegetable matter over the course of millions of years. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with fossil fuels. One, they are a finite resource and will eventually run out as we bleed the planet dry of them. Two, every step of the way from drilling to consumption is bad for the planet due to the amount of pollution this creates.
Yet, without the fuels made from oil, we would literally be back to the horse and buggy days. Or would we? As far back as the turn of the 20th century, those with incredible foresight, such as Henry Ford, were working on ethanol made from hemp. Not only did Ford develop engines made to run on hemp ethanol, but he also used hemp fibers to make the body panels on a prototype car.
However, the oil industry, along with the lumber and cotton industries, fought back against this idea. They did so out of fear that hemp fuel and products made from hemp could affect their bottom line. With the idea of hemp ethanol staring their profit margins in the face, these industrial barons convinced the federal government to step in. The government enacted a hemp tax that was high enough to put most hemp farmers and processors out of business, and by 1937 hemp farming and the production of things like hemp ethanol came to a crashing halt.
Ethanol Made from Hemp – An Excellent Alternative
For decades, American farmers have grown corn specifically for use in making the ethanol we use as a gasoline additive. Barley is also grown for the same purpose as both grains are easily fermented, producing ethanol. Many of today’s vehicles are “flex-fuel” capable. This means they can run on gasoline with an ethanol content of up to 85 percent.
Known as E85, this fuel has yet to take off. Despite the fact it contains up to 85 percent plant-based ethanol, we still make the rest from petroleum oil. And while the level of toxic emissions in vehicles run on this fuel does create less pollution, they still pollute.
There are several forms of fermentation in use in the production of ethanol made from hemp instead of corn or barley. Hemp ethanol offers several important benefits. Both corn and barley are food crops. But the more we turn to them as a source of ethanol, the less these crops are available as a food source.
By turning to ethanol made from hemp, we reduce our reliance on food sources such as these for fuel. Cutting back on using corn and barley for ethanol, we can improve the efficiency of our food production, providing affordable food for the masses.
Hemp Can Be Grown in Poor Soil
Corn and barley require healthy soil to grow properly. Farmers spend millions of dollars every year trying to remediate the soil in their fields using a variety of chemical fertilizers. Farmers can successfully grow hemp in poor soil and places where other crops won’t grow. Not only can hemp grow in poor quality soil, but it can also help restore nutrient levels.
Hemp plants have roots that go deeper than most crops in search of water. By going deeper, they pull nutrients up closer to the surface. In doing so, a single crop of hemp can do a lot to restore the health of the soil.
Is Hemp Ethanol the Answer to the World’s Problem?
We can make ethanol from hemp, but the big question is whether hemp ethanol will solve the world’s fuel dilemma. Our use of combustion engines is not something that is going to go away in a hurry. However, ethanol made from hemp is only a part of the solution to global warming. It will take a concerted effort to find alternatives beyond hemp ethanol as a viable source of fuel. Perhaps in time, we will find alternatives to the internal combustion engine. But until then, hemp fuel is a perfectly viable start to finding the solutions we need to save our planet.