by Scarlet Palmer on 28/03/2016 | Sensi Seeds News

Is hemp the best biofuel?

Biofuel The impacts of climate change on our fragile planet are both increasingly obvious and increasingly disastrous. Fossil fuels are unquestionably one of the biggest contributors; the race to find a sustainable substitute for these finite and ever-diminishing resources is on. Biofuel is one of the suggestions, but how viable is it? And is hemp the best biofuel?

It is a common misconception among hemp and cannabis proponents that simply switching from fossil fuels to hemp biofuel would, in one fell swoop, solve the problems of running out of fossil fuels and the frankly terrifying consequences of continuing to use them. Far from being the planet-saving solution that they are all too often presented as, biofuels as a whole bring their own set of issues that create more problems than they solve. Nothing exists in isolation. It is vital to look at the domino effect that replacing fossil fuels with biofuels would have on the planet as a whole. However, when comparing hemp to other biofuel feedstocks, there are some advantages to be seen.

Biodiesel and ethanol can both be made from hemp

There are two types of biofuel: biodiesel and ethanol. Ethanol is made from grains (corn, barley, wheat, etc) or sugar cane, but can also be made from the inedible parts of most plants. It is frequently used as a biofuel, but usually blended with petrol. Cars designed to run on petrol can only tolerate a 10% addition of ethanol to petrol; flexible fuel cars can use an up to 80% ethanol mix. In Brazil, where vast amounts of sugar cane are grown for biofuel, some cars can run on 100% ethanol.

Biodiesel is made by refining oils and fats from plants or animals, most commonly from vegetable oil, and requires methanol. Regular diesel is often blended with biodiesel at a rate of 80% / 20% respectively, but blends can range from 2% – 100% biodiesel. A practical advantage of biodiesel is that any diesel car can run on it.

Hemp, if grown as a biofuel feedstock, would be able to produce both biofuels. Hemp seed has an oil content of 30-35% of the seed weight, giving it a fuel yield of roughly 207 gallons per hectare. This is considerably lower than palm oil and coconut, but over twice that of rapeseed, peanut, and sunflower, and four times that of soybean. The remainder of the plant can be made into ethanol using fermentation under low oxygen levels.

Land use for biofuels

The most common feedstocks used for biofuel are soybeans and corn (US), sugar cane and sugar beet (South America), palm oil (Southeast and East Asia), and rapeseed (Europe). All of these require significant amounts of fertile land in order to flourish. Great swathes of rainforest have been destroyed to create space for oil palms; deforestation is occurring on an alarming and unprecedented scale in all of these areas. This has obliterated the habitat of numerous species, many of which (such as the orang-utan) are already endangered. These feedstocks are also grown on arable land formerly used to farm crops for human consumption, driving the prices of these crops up and out of the reach of the poor. In addition, what is known as ‘secondary deforestation’ is taking place as more land is needed to farm crops for food. Biofuel targets set by various governments around the world are doing more harm than good in terms of both climate change and food supply, and it is developing nations, rather than affluent ones, that are being hit hardest by both these problems.

What advantages does hemp have as a biofuel feedstock?

Hemp has the advantage of being able to grow in less fertile soil, and its ability to grow on what is referred to as ‘marginal land’ (i.e. not fields) is highly praised by many. However, in real terms, it produces the most seed when grown on fertile land under optimum conditions. Should its use as a biofuel feedstock catch on, it is very likely that arable land would be devoted to hemp in the same way that it is to rival feedstocks now, with the same negative impact on the price of food.

The other problems with marginal land are that firstly, it supports species and processes that are a valuable part of the ecosystem. Secondly, by its very nature, it tends to be in places that are impractical to farm. The issue of how to harvest hemp in hard to reach places, and how to transport it to a biofuel processing facility, cannot be ignored. Since both activities generate CO2 by burning fossil fuels, this must be factored into its efficacy as a carbon-neutral crop. This applies to all biofuel feedstock crops, on all land, not just hemp on marginal ground: the carbon cost of ploughing, sowing, harvesting, transportation and processing is higher than that of producing fossil fuels.

Although this means that switching to hemp fuel for all motor vehicles will neither solve the energy crisis nor halt climate change, there could be a smaller-scale yet still helpful application. If farms are able to grow and process hemp on-site to make biofuels for farm vehicles and machinery, they may be able to create a self-sustaining and low-carbon-emitting ‘loop’, and end their dependency on fossil fuels. Hemp could be introduced as a rotation crop in existing food crop cultivation, lessening the impact on both food prices and fossil fuel use.

There is also the fact that hemp is currently very much a ‘niche market’ food crop, so there is not the same dependence on it as there is on corn, for example. However, this currently makes it not cost-effective enough to be grown on a large scale for biofuel production.

Minimal fertilizer and water is needed to grow hemp

Another area which requires scrutiny when looking at biofuels is the fertilizers needed to farm them. These fertilizers are basically nitrates from oil and gas – yes, fossil fuels – using the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia, which in turn is used as feedstock for all other nitrogen fertilizers. Once introduced to land, they don’t just sit in the soil. Either they get washed into watercourses where they disturb the ecosystem, kill fish, and pollute drinking water supplies; or enter the atmosphere, becoming nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas worse than carbon dioxide – or the mono-nitrogen oxides NO and NO₂, which contribute to ground level ozone (another health hazard).

Hemp requires soil fertility roughly equivalent to that of corn to grow well. However, around 70% of its nutrient requirements will be returned to the soil during and after the growth cycle (1), drastically reducing the amount of fertilizers it needs over the long term. This is a definite advantage over all other biofuel feedstocks.

The same can be said of its water requirements. One of the biggest problems with biofuels is that their production requires more water than fossil fuels, anywhere from twice to 48 times as much. Hemp requires about 30 – 40 cm (12-15 in) water per each growing season or rainfall equivalent to produce a crop, whereas corn requires around 56 cm (22 inches).

Use of the whole plant

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of hemp as a biofuel is the potential for using every part of the plant. Once oil is pressed from the seeds, the remaining hulls and seed matter can be compressed into ‘cakes’ for nutritious animal feed. Trim from harvesting and leaves which fall off during growth return to the soil, along with the roots, replenishing it for the next crop. The bast fibres and hurds are used for fibre, paper and building materials, to name but a few products.

There are still obstacles to discovering whether or not hemp is the best biofuel. Currently, legislation which prevents hemp farming is still in place in much of the world; until this changes, a lot of hemp’s advantages remain theoretical. It is to be fervently hoped that this does not remain the case for much longer.

(1) British Colombia Ministry of Agriculture and Food Specialty Crop factsheet, via

Comment Section

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Lady Ganja Inc

HEMP will save the World Economies when the Government's let it. HEMP is GOD'S GIFT TO THE WORLD and the USA Power Elite after World War II set to classify HEMP as the Devil's plant. HEMP was banned from doing GOD'S WORK creating local sustainable jobs and Economies.


Captain Ozone

All types of ethanol, when burned, produce greenhouse gases - even ethanol made from hemp. The only fuel that is truly zero-emissions is hydrogen gas, which can be extracted from unlimited supplies of water through electrolysis. Solar, wind or water power (which are also zero-emissions) can generate the electrolysis needed to create hydrogen gas. It's a viable system that can be employed near rivers, lakes and ocean shores that is entirely pollution-free.

-Captain Ozone



Sounds to me like you have been hitting the bong WAAAAYYYYY too hard. What a nutcase.


Captain Ozone

All types of ethanol, when burned, produce greenhouse gases - even ethanol made from hemp. The only fuel that is truly zero-emissions is hydrogen gas, which can be extracted from unlimited supplies of water through electrolysis. Solar, wind or water power (which are also zero-emissions) can generate the electrolysis needed to create hydrogen gas. It's a viable system that can be employed near rivers, lakes and ocean shores that is entirely pollution-free.

-Captain Ozone



Hemp may not be the best for biofules, and there is always a trade off, but it is a lot better than other alternatives.



Wow, frankly I am stunned at how negative the rhetoric is in this article. The opening paragraph is one of doom and gloom!! It's like Jeff Sessions wrote the article himself!!


Scarlet Palmer

Hi Sambo,

Unfortunately, a realistic approach to climate change doesn't make for a happy upbeat article. I'd love it if hemp was a magic wand that we could wave at the impending disaster that is fossil fuel use, but the truth is, it's not. As also stated in the opening paragraph, hemp has some advantages over other biofuel stock, but it is by no means perfect. We strive to publish well-researched, balanced articles that allow our readership to reach their own conclusions; I'm slightly surprised that you've concluded I write like Jeff Sessions, but I'll take that on board!

With best wishes,



Marcel Bragt

Well. It's simply NOT true that solar, wind, and other forms of energy production does'nt spread emission of those natrual gasses.
Look it up yourself. The cleanset form of energy production is nuclear. The problem with nuclear is the waste and lack of knowledge in the technology behind it.


Tom Stanley

I would like to see hemp bio-fule all around. I know lots of areas where it could be grown. Could not a farmer plant an early crop of hemp, then a vegtable,followed by a late harvest of hemp?


Joseph Bianculli

If you remove the fear around climate change that removes much of the negative around the use of hemp biofuel. Sure, you still have land use but that's a given if we're going to have a large human population and the fact that the whole plant can be used makes it a monster.



The problem isn't cost the problem is big oil suppressing technology and helping keep the plat illegeal for the last 100 years is the problem.without interference from big oil the technology to process and farm hemp would be amazing but because big oil ,big pharma and dupont plastics couldn't profit on nature and did evil things to keep it away.



Hey great article. I appreciate when people do their research rather than just rant about things that they have no knowledge on. I do see where the issues come from with the production of hemp and the issues with the emissions. But on the other hand bio fuels are the first step in moving towards a clean energy. While hemp still does have the emission issues, it is no doubt a better alternative to fossil fuels. The issues could also be solved with a new perspective. One of the biggest things people do not include in articles such as this (and I am not saying that you forgot anything or that you didn't do an amazing job with the article) is the fact that hemp is also a filter for all the emissions that have already been released and any from the hemp fuel. Every plant in the world works as a filter for the air and hemp is a very good filter. They actually planted hemp around Chernobyl in order to filter out radiation and it has shown to be able to handle almost anything that has been thrown at it. And as a third generation farmer I can tell you that the idea that hemps lack of need for fertilizer and low water inputs makes it a blessing for farmers who have been used to having to use high amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. Hemp is by no means the final frontier when it comes to a new fuel but it is a fuel that can be substituted directly into vehicles currently on the road and if combined with some electrolysis can lower the emissions even more and who knows where we could go from there. I like the idea of solar and electric powered vehicles but those all require a high amount of resources (check out the mines for lithium). There is also an issue when it comes to maintaining a vehicle over time. Right now, the average age of a vehicle is higher than it ever has been due to high cost of newer vehicles (which car manufacturers will tell you is due to the requirements of meeting EPA standards which is bullshit). With an electric car you have a much higher maintenance cost along with higher cost of components (I also work in a mechanics shop as a service writer). What I think would be the best option would be to start hemp production on a somewhat smaller scale and start doing research in how to maximize the production and efficiency of converting to biofuel and maybe see a number of hemp ran cars. From there it would take a change in the heart of society in order to continue in the effort to make the world cleaner, more loving, and more prosperous.

Thank You,

P.S. I would love to hear any feedback from you on the subject. I am always looking to better my knowledge and love to see things from the other perspective.


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