by Neal Smith

Well, here we are again. The Middle East is going to hell and we’re paying high prices for gasoline and diesel fuel.  Regardless of the causes, and my heart certainly goes out to the citizens of the nations in their rebellion, it points out a problem that won’t go away: We are dependent on the oil that lies beneath the ground of foreign nations in an extremely volatile part of the world.

Higher prices for fuel will complicate economic recovery. At a time of high unemployment, falling wages and rising prices, this is just what America needs: A higher bill to pay. Truck drivers are going to be hit hard. Producers of products will raise prices to compensate. Because of the greed and short-sightedness of energy companies, little has been done to ease this situation.

But there is hope. Many states are looking at relegalizing Cannabis/Hemp/Marijuana, including Indiana. One of the best uses for the non-psychoactive Hemp plant is for fuel, either ethanol or diesel. It can be produced on a large scale, using the same technology currently used to produce fuel from petroleum, or it can be produced on a small scale.

Hemp diesel fuel comes from the seed oil, and can be used as is, or can work with additives such as fuel system lubricants and stabilizers. Once the oil is extracted from the seed, the production uses the same processing technology as petroleum.

Ethanol or methanol can be produced from Hemp using the plant’s biomass. The pulp, called “Hurds,” is 77% cellulose. Because of Hemp’s dense biomass, it is an ideal source for fuel called “Hempoline.” Again, once the biomass is extracted, existing fuel technology is used for production.  You can read a brief overview of Hemp fuel from and other sources.

America’s energy needs can be met by growing Hemp on 6% of our farmland. You can get 20 barrels of oil from one acre of Hemp. A 2007 study in Sweden determined:

The results of this study show that biogas production from hemp is a promising possibility for production of vehicle fuel from energy crops. The harvest of year 2006 showed a high biomass yield for hemp, more than 14 tons TS per hectare, and if other harvest determinations will confirm this, hemp will be one of the highest yielding crops in Sweden, if not the highest. Already with the simple batch digestion used in the present study, the biogas yield from hemp gave one of the highest gross yields of vehicle fuel per hectare achieved in Sweden. Still, there is a large potential to improve the methane yield. The harvest time showed to have little effect on the specific methane yield but a large effect on the biomass yield and thus the methane yield per hectare. The best methane yield per hectare was achieved when harvesting in September through October. Caution should be taken if digesting hemp harvested early (July), and possibly also for later harvested hemp, because of the risk of inhibition of the process.

Hemp is far more efficient than corn and soybeans for bio fuels. Hemp is much better for the environment as well since it requires no chemicals such as Atrazine to be grown on a commercial scale.

A company out of California, Fuel and Fiber Company, has done some work on showing the efficacy of Hemp as a feedstock for fuel production.

Hemp Biomass Production Model Using the Fuel and Fiber Company Methodxiv
Min Max Average Improve
20% Totals Sell 1 Sell 2 Total 1 Total 2
Tons per Acre 1.5 5 3.25 0.65 3.9
Lbs. Bast
(Separated 90-94%)
750 2500 1625 325 1950 0.35 0.55 $682.50 $1,072.50
Lbs. Hurd 2250 7500 4875 975 5850
Gallons Per Ton 20 80 50 $2.00 $3.00
Gallons Per Acre 146 292.5 438.8
Ethanol costs
Per Gallon
0.92 1.37 1.145 167.46 167.46
$125.04 $271.29
Gross $807.54 $1,343.79
Production Costs
Per Acre
424 617 520.5 $520.50 $520.50
Separation costs
Per Ton
41.54 75.68 58.61 $228.58 $228.58
Costs $749.08 $749.08
Profit $58.46 $594.71
Administrative &
License %
2 $16.15 $26.88
NET $42.31 $567.84
Capacity Acres Tons
10 MGY Facility 68,376 66,667 Annual $2,893,256 $38,826,590
25 MGY Facility 170,940 166,667 Profits $7,233,141 $97,066,474
Total Admin &
$1,104,333 $4,594,167

Capital costs not included. Estimated capital costs are $135 to $150 million per facility, plus crop payments. To add a pulping operation will require an additional $100 million and adds $117 per ton of fiber processed for pulp, which has a market value of up to $2,500 per ton. The most conservative estimates possible were used for this study. A full-scale feasibility study is needed to validate assumptions and projections. An additional $35 per ton environmental impact benefit should also be factored into future projections.

Indiana’s climate is perfect for Hemp production, having sufficient growth time and adequate rainfall. Hemp is a very hardy plant, able to endure the vagaries of Hoosier weather. The conditions in the above report were based on California agronomics, but could easily be done in Indiana.

Indiana’s food production, mostly corn and soybeans, are being heavily impacted by production of biofuels. With food prices rising, we should be using our food crops as food crops. Hemp is far more efficient for fuel and can be grown on marginal land.

Then there is the potential for fiber production. Once the hurds and seed oil are removed for fuel, the fiber could be sold and used in production for automotive parts, clothing and cordage, providing more income for Hoosier business.

Indiana has a long history of both Hemp and automobiles. A Canadian company, Motive Industries, has a prototype of the Kestrel, a Hemp bio composite bodied automobile that is slated for production this year.  The lesser weight of the body, similar in size to a Ford Fusion, reduces fuel consumption by 25 to 30%. Henry Ford built a Hemp-based car in 1941. In fact, one his first Model T’s was built mostly from Hemp. Why isn’t Indiana taking the lead in this area? Flexform Technologies out of Elkhart, Indiana, is already producing automobile interior panels from mostly Hemp. If we could grow the Hemp in Indiana rather than importing it from Canada, costs would be drastically reduced.

Indiana could be the next OPEC. We have sufficient land, sufficient need and the ability to make Hoosier lives considerably better. All we need is the political will to advance Hemp in Indiana.