Ecology of Hemp
Hemp is more eco-friendly by its very nature and it can be used for a very wide variety of products including food, bio-fuels, construction materials, paper products, textiles, and more. New uses are continually unfolding as we come to better understand the potential of hemp.
Industrial hemp advocates propose using hemp as a replacement for wood and cotton because it offers products of comparable or superior quality while reducing or eliminating the ecologically negative characteristics involved in their processing.
Comparing Hemp with Wood
Hemp offers many environmentally friendly benefits when compared to traditional production of wood:
• Hemp achieves better land utilization as it yields three to eight tons of fiber per acre, which is four times the yield of the average forest.
• One acre of hemp produces 4.1 times as much paper as an acre of trees.
• Hemp can also be harvested every year while trees take 20 years or more to grow to harvest.
• Since hemp builds topsoil, it can be grown on the same acre of land year after year. Many acres of forest could be saved by industrial cultivation of hemp for paper alone.
The replacement of wood fiber by hemp-based products can save forests for wildlife habitat, watersheds, recreational areas, oxygen production, and carbon sequestration to help in reducing global warming. Many traditional construction products could be made from hemp. Beams, studs, posts, oriented strand board, and medium density fiberboard made from hemp would be stronger and lighter because of hemp's long fibers.
The Benefits of Hemp Based Paper
Unlike wood, hemp is low in lignin, which means that hemp can be pulped using fewer chemicals. Hemp can be bleached using a gentle hydrogen peroxide rather than toxic chlorine compounds and dioxins which are generated as a by-product of paper production. Many of these toxic chemical waste products from wood pollute our streams, rivers, and lakes. The discharge of heavy metals and toxins like sulfuric acid and dioxin could be reduced by 60 to 80 percent by making the switch to hemp pulp.
Hemp can be made into fine quality paper. The long fibers in hemp allow hemp paper to be recycled several times more than wood-based paper. Hemp paper is of the highest quality,
resists decomposition, and does not yellow as it ages when an acid-free process is used. Hemp paper is more durable and will last for ages. For these reasons, Hemp paper has been used for bibles and historical documents for thousands of years.
Comparing Industrial Hemp with Cotton
Hemp grows well without herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. The production of cotton, on the other hand, consumes about 25% of all pesticides used on American crops. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic classified by the U.S. In developing countries, where regulations are less stringent, the number of herbicides and insecticides and their toxicity is often greater than those used in the U.S. on cotton crops.
Industrial hemp is also a very efficient crop. On a per acre basis, hemp yields 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax without the need for toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Hemp fibers are longer and stronger than cotton with eight times the tensile strength and four times the durability. Hemp fibers are also more absorbent, more mildew-resistant, and more insulative than cotton. This means that hemp will keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer than cotton.
The nature of hemp fibers makes them more absorbent to dyes, which coupled with hemp's ability to better screen out ultraviolet rays, means that hemp material is less prone to fading than cotton fabrics. Like cotton, hemp can be made into a variety of fabrics, including high quality linen. When blended with materials such as cotton, linen, and silk, hemp provides a sturdier, longer lasting product, while maintaining quality and softness.
Land Use and Hemp
Hemp has a deep root system that helps to prevent soil erosion, removes toxins, and aerates the soil to the benefit of future crops. Hemp grows well in a variety of climates and soil types. It is naturally resistant to most pests, precluding the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds, so herbicides are not necessary. It also leaves a weed-free field for a following crop. The cultivation of industrial hemp also combats the growing problem of topsoil erosion.
In the U.S., more than
five billion tons of precious agricultural topsoil is lost each year due to erosion. Hemp is the ideal crop to counter this loss. The fine root systems and the long roots of hemp plants will penetrate the soil for three to seven feet, helping to anchor and protect soil from runoff and erosion.
Hemp builds and replenishes topsoil and subsoil structures. Hemp plants shed their leaves throughout the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture which allows hemp to be more drought-resistant. Hemp
leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome.
Industrial Hemp for Renewable Energy
As a renewable resource from living plants, hemp does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. The growing plants absorb as much C02 as will later be released when oil or other plant matter is burnt. Unlike fossil fuels such as oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear fuels, hemp could supply us with raw materials for thousands of years, without ever changing our climate and without producing waste that remains radioactive for millions of years.
Hemp is a high yield fiber crop, producing more biomass per acre than most other crops. As a result, the hydrocarbons in hemp could be used as a renewable, low polluting alternative to fossil fuels. Hemp could be processed into fuel pellets, liquid fuels, and gas, reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Biomass can be converted into virtually every form of energy used, including methanol to power automobiles. Since methanol is a cleaner fuel than petrol-based fuels, this would lead to reduced auto emissions. Corn is the most
popular source of biomass today but hemp can yield up to eight times as much methanol per acre as corn.
Unlike fossil fuel, biomass comes from living plant that continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. With plant heights reaching 15' or more, hemp creates a lot of oxygen and captures high amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Hemp fields could become very important in addressing issues of planetary climate change. When hemp is grown for biomass, C02 is taken in and metabolized by the plants, generating oxygen in the process. When the biomass is burned as fuel, the C02 is released back into the air. This maintains a balanced C02 cycle. By contrast, burning fossil fuels introduces carbon back into the atmosphere that has been “out of circulation” for millions of years, and provides no mechanism for re absorption.
On a global scale, hemp is perhaps the only plant capable of producing sufficient biomass to provide an alternative to fossil fuels. As a biomass fuel resource, hemp could stop a host of damaging effects associated with fossil fuels: strip mining, oil spills, acid rain, and sulfur-based smog.
Hemp and Bio-Diesel
Bio-diesel is the name for a variety of ester based oxygenated fuels made from hemp seed oil, other vegetable oils, or animal fats. The concept of using vegetable oil as an engine fuel dates back to 1895 when Dr. Rudolf Diesel developed the first diesel engine to run on vegetable oil. Diesel demonstrated his engine at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900 using peanut oil as fuel.
Bio-diesel is the only alternative fuel that runs in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine. It can be stored anywhere that petroleum diesel fuel is stored. Bio-diesel is safe to handle and transport because it is as biodegradable as sugar, is ten times less toxic than table salt, and has a high flash-point of about 300F compared to petroleum diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 125F. Bio-diesel is a proven fuel with over 30 million successful US road miles, and over 20 years of use in Europe. When burned in a diesel engine, bio-diesel replaces the exhaust odor of petroleum diesel with the pleasant smell of hemp, popcorn, or French
• Bio-diesel is the only alternative fuel in the US to complete EPA Tier I Health Effects Testing under section 211(b) of the Clean Air Act, which provide the most thorough inventory of environmental and human health effects attributes that current technology will allow.
• Bio-diesel is 11% oxygen by weight and contains no sulfur.
• The use of bio-diesel can extend the life of diesel engines because it is more lubricating than petroleum diesel fuel, while fuel consumption, auto ignition, power output, and engine torque are relatively unaffected by biodiesel.
• The Congressional Budget Office, Department of Defense, US Department of Agriculture, and others have determined that bio-diesel is the low-cost alternative fuel option for fleets to meet requirements of the Energy Policy Act.
So Why Aren’t We Using More Hemp?
Industrial hemp has many wonderful properties and uses that can help our planet and people achieve a healthier and more natural and sustainable existence. Our government agencies just have to get past the unreasonable fears and phobias and ingrained self-interests of some of our large industries and their lobbyists.