Hemp is quite probably the most useful raw material on the planet. In this four part series, we are going to be taking a look at all the wonderful benefits of the cannabis plant and the many uses of hemp in particular.
Hemp’s uses are well documented; for example as fuel, fibre and paper amongst many other things. Its use dates back thousands of years, and UKCIA explains that: “Cannabis hemp was widely grown across Britain in the Middle Ages, from at least 800 to 1800 AD, though the amount grown varied widely through the centuries. It was mainly grown for fibre which was used to make sails, ropes, fishing nets and clothes. Old clothes were recycled into paper. Oil was produced from the seeds and was burned in lamps. It may also have been used as a folk medicine and for food, but it’s a mystery whether or not it was taken as a drug.”
Also a mystery is why the hemp industry isn’t bigger in the UK, when there are numerous benefits to its use. In this series, I will outline hemp’s primary uses and the advantages over currently more popular options for fuel, paper, textiles and other things such as building materials.
Part 1: Fuel and Paper
Hemp for fuel:
Hemp can be used to make fuel that is easily sustainable, as four cycles of hemp can be grown in a one year period. In comparison to this, we have the currently more popular fossil fuels, which are fast running out. Since man first discovered fossil fuels we have been on our way to using them up. This is because they take a long time to form, making them a finite resource. Since 1900 worldwide consumption of fossil fuels has doubled nearly every 20 years.
When we are using fuels such as oil to such a degree that world experts expect us to face a crisis within the next couple of decades, maybe it is time to start producing more vehicles capable of running without needing its use. An article from the Independent back in 2003 stated that “Research presented this week at the University of Uppsala in Sweden claims that oil supplies will peak soon after 2010, and gas supplies not long afterwards, making the price of petrol and other fuels rocket, with potentially disastrous economic consequences unless people have moved to alternatives to fossil fuels.” http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4874.htm – Wow, what a prediction. Oil is now more expensive than ever with no signs of decreasing in price, a problem which any motor vehicle driver can empathise with. I remember being outraged when petrol hit £1 per litre, yet just a few years later and that would be considered ridiculously cheap by today’s standards. On the other hand, if we all switched to biomass fuel, costs would remain relatively constant, as the source would not be constantly depleting like fossil fuels are. This means that in theory, you would not have the worry of your car fuel prices going up day by day.
There is an ongoing debate about the US motives for the war on Iraq, and many believe it has more to do with oil than terrorism. TheDebate.org states that: “There is substantial evidence that America’s interest in Iraq is motivated by oil, not just national security. Is the U.S. government being open and honest about their reasons for declaring war on Iraq? Read the evidence and decide for yourself.” And you can read an overwhelming amount of evidence over at http://www.thedebate.org/thedebate/iraq.asp
Fossil fuels may be a good source of raw energy, but look at what they cost the human race – dangerous pollution for the planet, rising costs and even war. Oil is favoured for its ease of transportation over gas, and its ease of extraction over coal. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and gas pockets are the most difficult to get to. As a result, there are more of these fuels left, but I’m sure once the oil runs out this will soon change!
So how could hemp help us in this situation? It’s actually very simple. Hemp4fuel.com states that: “The point where the cost of producing energy from fossil fuels exceeds the cost of biomass fuels has been reached… energy from fossil fuels will cost the taxpayer more money than the same amount of energy supplied through biomass conversion.” Two facts that I stumbled across recently also explain the situation quite well:
– Biomass (e.g. hemp) can be converted to methane, methanol, or gasoline at a cost comparable to petroleum.
– Hemp fuel burns clean. Petroleum causes acid rain due to sulphur pollution.
So these facts on top of depleting sources of fossil fuels surely make hemp a great candidate for fuel of the future? I hope so. It is also worth noting that with fuel sources such as hemp, as the plant grows it removes CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then returned to the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. This is called a closed carbon cycle and means that fuel made from hemp is much less damaging to the environment, and could drastically help slow down global warming.
Hemp for Paper:
The use of hemp paper dates back a very long time. We know this because hemp paper lasts a very long time. China is documented to have first used hemp paper as far back as 1800 years ago. Unlike paper made from trees, hemp paper resists deterioration and doesn’t yellow, meaning documents from hundreds of years ago can still be seen, and in much better condition than their tree-paper counterparts.
Hemphasis.net states that: “Making paper from trees is kind of a joke, because trees are made up of only 30% cellulose. The other 70% of the tree must be removed using toxic chemicals, until the cellulose can be formed into paper. The higher the percentage of cellulose in a plant, the better, because fewer chemicals need to be used and less work needs to be done before the paper can be made. Almost any plant in nature with a strong stalk is better suited to make paper than trees, especially hemp because it can be 85% cellulose.” (http://www.hemphasis.net/Paper/paper.htm)
In fact, one acre of hemp can be used to produce as much paper as 4.1 acres of trees. Trees take years and years to grow, whereas this amount of hemp can be produced in a single season. This makes it not only a much less environmentally damaging but also a more efficient paper source than trees.
On top of this, making pulp and paper uses a lot of energy. Hemphasis.net states that: “The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for 4 percent of all the world’s energy use.” – (same source as above)
On top of this, the pulp and paper industry also uses more water than any other industry per tonne of product, and because of the need to bleach the paper; chemicals such as dioxides and chlorine are released into the water used. This isn’t the case for paper made from hemp, which does not require bleaching and so doesn’t produce toxic run-offs which could lead to water pollution.
The facts above make hemp a clear-cut winner when it comes to usability and production, as well as the fact that it wouldn’t have anywhere near the negative effects on the environment that the current pulp and paper industry have.
It is also widely known that the paper industry were partly responsible for a smear campaign against hemp in 1940s America, along with fuel and pharmaceutical industries. They wanted to replace hemp with synthetic materials, and wanted to supply pesticides for an increasing number of cotton fields. Cotton is now responsible for 50% of pesticide use in the USA, even though it covers only 1% of farmland. But I will go into that further in part two.
So there you have it, hemp is a much more sustainable source of fuel and paper than the global corporations currently favour. The hemp industry can help save the planet!
Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon, featuring the uses of hemp for textiles and building materials.