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Hemp seen as fuel substitute

Posted on September 20, 2005
Hemp Car

Hemp Car

Amherst, Massachusetts — With gas and oil prices at an all-time high, the alternative solution for residents throughout Amherst and the country for energy is hemp.

Gas prices recently broke the $3-a-gallon mark for the first time in the region, which has drivers and residents who rely on gas for their cars as well as oil for heat struggling. The thought of hemp production as a cheap alternative to oil and gas is appealing because it can be converted to “biomass” that is in turn converted to energy.

“Biomass can be converted to methane, methanol, or gasoline at a fraction of the current cost of oil, coal, or nuclear energy,” said Jack Herer, a longtime hemp activist and author of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.”

In his book, Herer states, “Hemp stems are 80 percent hurds (pulp byproduct after the hemp fiber is removed from the plant). Hemps hurds are 77 percent cellulose – a primary chemical feed stock (industrial raw material) used in the production of chemicals, plastics and fibers … an acre of full-grown hemp plants can provide from 50 to 100 times the cellulose found in cornstalks, kenaf, or sugar cane.”

First, a simple comparison of energy content reveals that a dry ton of biomass crops — $40 is a reasonable current average cost — is comparable to oil at $10–13 a barrel.
— From Richard G Lugar and R James Woolsey Foreign Affairs article “The New Petroleum.”

Many people aren’t educated about hemp due to the illegal nature of its cultivation and its (strictly legal) association with marijuana. Bruce Montague, an employee of Amherst’s own Surner Heating Company, said in an interview last winter in response to the suggestion of using hemp energy, “I don’t think there’d be any benefit.”

According to Herer’s research, “Farming only six percent of the continental U.S. acreage with biomass [from hemp] crops would provide all of American’s gas and oil energy needs, ending dependence upon fossil fuels.” He added, “Each acre of hemp would yield 1,000 gallons of methanol. Fuels from hemp, along with the recycling of paper, etc., would be enough to run America virtually without oil.”

Herer explained the versatility of hemp by saying, “It can be grown in virtually any climate or soil condition on Earth, even marginal ones.”

Recent marijuana decriminalization laws in Amherst have lightened the penalties for possession of the plant. However, the association hemp has to the drug is possibly one of its biggest roadblocks towards legalization. With crystal methamphetamine presently the country’s largest drug problem, admitted by both state and local law enforcement agencies, the current administration is asking such agencies to focus their efforts on marijuana busts.

“Nearly half of state and local law-enforcement agencies identify ‘meth’ as their greatest drug threat, as more than 1 million Americans use the highly addictive drug, which is linked to violent crime, explosions and fires at ‘meth’ labs, severe health problems, and child and family abuse,” said Robert Dreyfuss in the Aug. 11 issue of Rolling Stone.

In a telephone interview with Herer, though he endured a stroke just a few years ago, was willing to discuss his views on “Big Energy.” He said, “All the energy companies bought up the coal rights and when gasoline runs out in our lifetime, within the next 40 years, these companies are going to feed us the coal substitute for the next 400 years!”

Copyright © 2005, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. All rights reserved.

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