You’ve probably heard that fossil fuels are running out, and that it’s time to look for alternative fuels. In this sense, hemp ethanol has positioned itself as a fuel of the future with great benefits for the population.
Many in fact think it may become the next fuel of the future for cars. However, what does fuel made from hemp consist of? What are its advantages over other fuels? Are there any drawbacks?
We will talk about all of this below.
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What is hemp ethanol?
While hemp-based fuel may seem like a cutting-edge concept, it has actually been around since the beginning of the engine revolution. Many people don’t know this, but Henry Ford developed some of his early vehicles to run on hemp fuel, not just gasoline.
There are those who believe that ethanol could have been the main fuel had it not been for the discovery of large oil deposits in the early 20th century.
The good news is that interest in hemp ethanol as the new fuel of the future has been revived. This is thanks, among other things, to its environmental advantages.
In the United States for example, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the mass production of industrial hemp. What exactly does hemp ethanol consist of? How does it compare to traditional fuels such as oil?
But perhaps the most relevant question is: what will be the fuel of the future, and is a world powered by hemp fuel possible? Let’s first look at what hemp ethanol is.
Ethanol is a transparent alcohol that is currently being used as a biofuel. Such alcohol can be obtained from a wide range of materials, including starches, sugars, and grains, as is the case with biodiesel.
How is hemp ethanol produced?
Today, most gasoline sold in the United States contains 10% ethanol by volume. As we saw before, many materials are used to produce commercial ethanol.
However, ethanol can also be produced from hemp. The process is described below:
- In this case, the process begins with the hemp stalk, which must first be broken into small pieces.
- After this, the small pieces of hemp are heated using chemicals.
- The purpose of heating the hemp is to release all the cellulose from the plant material.
- Specialized enzymes are then used, and from this, the cellulose obtained is converted into sugar.
- Finally, the sugar is transformed into ethanol through the fermentation process. Ethanol made from hemp must then be purified and distilled so that it can be used as biofuel.
Is biodiesel and hemp ethanol the same thing?
It is important to clarify that hemp biofuel can be divided into two categories. One is hemp biodiesel, and the other is, precisely, hemp ethanol. Therefore, biodiesel and hemp ethanol are not the same.
One thing that distinguishes biodiesel from other fuels such as gasoline is that it is a blend of vegetable oils and diesel fuel. It is considered an alternative fuel because it is renewable and biodegradable.
While much biodiesel is made from soybean oil, the reality is that multiple substances can be used to create this biofuel. For example, animal fat, algae, cooking oil and, of course, hemp.
But unlike hemp ethanol, hemp biodiesel is obtained from the pressing of hemp seeds. This method is used to extract oil, which is then combined with traditional diesel.
After this, hemp biodiesel can be used in any engine that is compatible with diesel. However, it is important to mention that instead of giving off the characteristic chemical smell and soot, cars running on hemp biodiesel will smell like hemp.
Benefits of hemp ethanol
Beyond the fact that fossil fuels will eventually run out, it is also a fact that fossil fuels pollute the planet. For example, it is known that for every gallon of gasoline consumed, 8,887 grams ofCO2 escape into the atmosphere.
It is estimated that one car alone can emit about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. Considering this scenario, it is evident the need to start using environmentally friendly fuels.
In this sense, hemp stands out as a renewable and sustainable resource. This is a key point in its favor, unlike oil and coal.
Another benefit of hemp ethanol as a fuel of the future is that it is produced from the hemp stalk, so it does not actually compete with food reserves.
In fact, it is estimated that approximately 40% of the corn grown in the United States is used for ethanol production, rather than for human consumption and livestock.
And that’s not all, the hemp plant tends to grow quickly, in many cases reaching maturity in just four months. In addition, hemp, unlike other crops, does not require the use of too many pesticides.
Hemp is even recognized as one of the plant resources that best absorbsCO2 as the plant grows. On the other hand, hemp can thrive without problems in a wide variety of climates, including soils where other biofuel plants do not.
What are the disadvantages?
Considering all the benefits of hemp ethanol, you may wonder: why hasn’t it replaced fossil fuels? The reason for this is that transforming hemp oil into ethanol is time consuming and more labor intensive.
This compares with corn and sugarcane, particularly because it does not yet compete directly on price. Another drawback is that a large amount of hemp is required to meet the current energy demand.
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