Could hemp bio-fuel be the answer to South Africa's energy crisis?

South African’s panic as energy crisis becomes more apparent. The price of electricity has sky-rocketed in South Africa in the last 10 years, and the price of fuel seems to go up every other week. As the world’s fossil-fuel reserves are dangerously low, we are in dire need of an eco-friendly alternative.

Could hemp biofuel be South Africa’s answer to renewable energy?

Cannabis, or more specifically the industrial hemp variety, can produce two types of biofuel:

  • Biodiesel: Hemp biodiesel is an ester-based oxygenated fuel made from hemp seed oil. Hemp biodiesel can be used in most diesel cars without modification, and burns cleaner than other biofuels.

  • Ethanol/Methanol: The stalks of the hemp plant contain natural sugars and fibres that can be fermented to make ethanol and methanol respectively. Using hemp as a feedstock for ethanol production is far more efficient than the more popular alternative, corn, growing higher yields in less time.

If hemp biofuels are such a good option, why are they not a reality? Legality is the biggest issue. Due to hemp being lumped in with cannabis and its intoxicating effects, it is illegal to grow in most countries around the world. Only in recent years has the stigma been lifted, and hemp cultivation is becoming a reality throughout Africa. The majority of hemp seeds being cultivated are destined for the food industry, as the demand is very high with a price to match. With the abundance of available farming land in South Africa, and near perfect growing environment for hemp, we will soon be seeing our own hemp industry flourishing.

One thousand hectares of industrial hemp is being cultivated on a farm in Newcastle, KZN, in partnership with Krithi Thaver of CannaCulture. This is the first step in researching different varieties of the cannabis plant, to determine which will be best suited for the South African environment. First harvest is due in a couple months, as South Africans eagerly wait to see the progress.

To find out more about the various uses of industrial hemp in South Africa, visit the CannaCulture stand at Cannacon 2019, Durban.

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