Is it time for hemp-based biofuel?

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that hemp is a viable feedstock for biodiesel fuel and are now working on plans to build a biofuel refinery capable of processing the versatile material.

Working with a selection of research students, associate professor of chemical engineering Richard Parnas announced last week that he is going to build a research refining plant that will be able to use hemp to make fuel.

The refinery, which will be built using a two-year, $1.8m (£1.14m) grant from the Department of Energy, is expected to produce 200,000 gallons of biodiesel a year.

The research team said that it will be able to customise the facility to handle a range of feedstocks, including hemp.

As with many other commercial uses of hemp, Parnas’s process would use the Sativa variety, which unlike its cousin the cannabis plant is not psychoactive. Hemp fibre is also being used as a core material in some car body designs.

Hemp has several qualities that make it suitable as a biofuel feedstock, according to Parnas.

One is that it grows in infertile soil, making it easier to produce commercially viable yields in otherwise inhospitable areas. The other is that it is not a food crop, meaning that the use of the plant for commercial fuel purposes should not contribute to food security problems.

“It’s equally important to make fuel from plants that are not food, but also won’t need the high-quality land,” Parnas said.

Finally, hemp may also be able to burn effectively at lower temperatures than other biodiesel products, according to the research team’s test results.