Following the signing of a bill that made it legal to farm hemp anywhere in the US, the industrial hemp market is expected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2019 to $26.6 billion by 2025, according to a report by Research and Markets. One of the main factors that will lead to the explosion of the industrial hemp market is its use as an energy crop. For decades, enthusiasts have been promoting the use of hemp for bioenergy production; the crop has been shown to have a high biomass yield and fits well into existing crop rotations. While the energy use of hemp is still very limited today, there's a good chance that it will not only complement but also exceed other energy crops.
While the concept of a hemp-powered car may sound like something straight from the future to many, it's not. In fact, Henry Ford built a car that ran on hemp fuel back in the 1930s and was one of the biggest advocates for switching from fossil fuels to more sustainable biofuels. Unfortunately, growing hemp was outlawed in 1937 making it impossible for Ford to produce vehicles that only used hemp fuel. With the legalization of industrial hemp farming, scientists are looking to make Ford's dream a reality. Researchers from the University of Connecticut found hemp to contain viable qualities for biodiesel production. They discovered that cannabis seeds, which are often discarded, contain hemp oil that can be turned into biofuel at a 96 percent conversion rate, making it one of the most attractive feedstock for producing biodiesel.
Hemp as an energy-efficient building material
Hemp can also be converted into construction blocks, also referred to as hempcrete, which have been proven to be more energy-efficient than traditional concrete blocks. However, the best use of hempcrete is not for the foundation or structure but as an insulation material. To make hempcrete, hemp's woody fibers are mixed with lime to produce a light, natural concrete that has excellent thermal mass retaining capacity and is highly insulating. To put things into perspective, hempcrete has a U-Value - the amount of heat it allows to pass through - of 0.040 while the more commonly used fiberglass has a U-Value of 0.22. Hemp also has a superior ability to absorb moisture without reducing its insulation ability which controls humidity in a home to improve comfort and reduce the threat of mold growth. Thermal insulation made of hempcrete guarantees very low-temperature variation in a home throughout the year, which reduces energy bills during the summer and winter.
Easy to grow
What makes hemp one of the best energy crops is not its many applications but how easy it is to grow. First of all, hemp can grow in most parts of the world and since it grows like a weed, it doesn't require lots of water or fertile land to flourish. Fungal diseases are also rare and since few insect pests exist in hemp crops, farmers require very limited amounts of pesticides. Since hemp is an annual crop, it functions well in crop rotations, reducing the occurrence of pests.
Hemp can certainly be an eco-friendly crop for producing bioenergy and other industrial uses as well. But, before this becomes a reality, governments and other stakeholders will first have to build an infrastructure to process materials so that farmers can grow the crop more confidently knowing they can turn a profit.