Biodiesel: can hemp become the future of biofuels?

Changing the current world’s overreliance on fossil fuels, like diesel, has been a pursued project for a long time. If it wasn’t for diesel, the world economy would stop at a halt, since many industries, like transportation, depend on it. Alternatives have been thrown around, from simple water to electricity. Biodiesel—a similar type of fuel made out of organic material—has also become a promising candidate.

However, biofuels need to face significant hurdles before becoming the world’s most common fuel. Hemp, thanks to its properties, could help in overcoming these obstacles.

Biofuels and biodiesel

Biofuels are a type of fuel made out of organic material—mainly plants. They are generally divided into bioethanol, a common alcohol made out of fermented sugars found in plants, and biodiesel, extracted from the oil and lipids.

Global biofuel production reached 40 billion gallons in 2018, and it's expected to grow 3% annually until 2030. This amount would not be enough to keep up with the International Energy Agency’s current and future necessities.

Is hemp biodiesel a reality?

Yes. Currently, hemp is mostly used for bioethanol, but its potential for biodiesel has been proven. As with other products, the advantage that hemp offers relates to its production leftover. That means producing fuels at a minimal cost with residual material.

Using hemp to produce biodiesel brings other benefits, like its ability to grow in less fertile soils, the fact that the plant can be used in its totality, and it doesn't need much fertilizer and water to grow.

The drawbacks

Unfortunately, hemp fuel isn't there yet to meet the demands of an energy-hungry world. It will be necessary 50% more biofuel in order to create the same amount of energy as regular diesel.

The main setback is in regards to its production process. Before hemp can be fermented to extract the fuels, it must go through a pre-treatment, adding fuel production costs.

The future

However, hemp can overcome these obstacles. The plant has been studied regularly to develop better processes, and its mass production is incrementing.

Since its legalization, crops of hemp have been covering US territory little by little. Today, there are not enough plants to supply a global fuel market, and most of them are harvested for CBD oil. As more farmers turn to use their residual material, they may very well take over the industry a nearby day.