Early Methods of Production | Hurds Hit the Matket | Fuels of the Future | Hemp-based Economies


It is estimated that Cannabis sativa has over 30,000 uses. When one considers it's intangible benefits it is obvious that the trade value of this plant cannot be measured in dollars. Every part of cannabis has considerable potential for human benefit. In the future it is possible that we may be living in a world where almost everything contains cannabis. This will be discussed in the final chapters. Now we need to look at the history of hemp production, the machinery which has been developed to harvest and process hemp, the different products which can be made from hemp, and what areas we need to further develop industrial procedures so as to efficiently supply the growing demand for hemp products.

This chapter will obviously need continuous updating, as this particular area in the resurrection of hemp is the fastest growing branch of cannabis today. While some argue that hemp will eventually supply everything from our food and clothes to our building materials and fuels, others argue that there are other sources which are just as environmentally safe, and which may in fact be more appropriate to use. These details will be figured out over time as more research is done. It is undeniably true that hemp has the capacity to provide us with most of our material necessities, as it once did so very long ago. Although such a possibility may seem distant, it will not remain so for very long. This is because for the first time in many years, money is being generated by those in the hemp industry and these funds are being directed towards educating and informing both farmers and consumers as to hemp's true nature. Once this ignorance is overcome, hemp's revival will progress much faster.

Hemp fiber could have been discovered by Neolithic humans. They discovered that when the plant was left laying in water or in the fields the stalks would decompose within one to five weeks, depending upon the humidity, leaving the fibers much easier to separate and use. In all likelihood, humans began cutting down trees to make room for Cannabis sativa, which was very easy to cultivate without touching the soil. This process was perfected over the years..

There is a fine line between retting and rotting. If the fibers become too waterlogged, they are no longer useful for textiles, cordage or many other products, although the biomass is still useful for other purposes. Historically, continuous periods of rain have occasionally prevented harvest or otherwise ruinied a crop, but adequate equipment should overcome this old problem. After the pectin has dissolved, the stalks are dried out. This process of leaving the stalks in the field to break apart naturally is called dew retting, and the fibers produced by this method are light brown and coarse, perfect for rope, twine and fine paper. Water retting is a process where bundles of hemp are submerged in clean water laced with calcium and chlorides. These chemicals break down the pectin, a process which takes 7 to 10 days. The stalks are then rinsed, washed, sundried and stored. The fiber is of finer quality than is made with dew retting, though it is more expensive. Warm water retting is a very similar process, except after soaking for 24 hours, the temperature of the water is heated to varying degrees for 2 to 3 days. This gives you a very uniform, clean fiber. Green retting refers to all processes whereby the fiber and hurds are separated by machinery right after harvest. The decorticator, as invented by George W. Schlicten, is such a machine. This yields an excellent fiber and leaves the hurds in excellent shape too. Chemical retting refers to all processes in which the stalks are submerged in a heated tank with chemicals designed to break down the pectin. When the hemp has dried, the fiber and hurds are still held together and must be decorticated, scrunched, hacked and combed.

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When the decorticator was created, the paper industry felt threatened along with the companies who obtained contracts to deforest the west coast. These people effectively threw a blanket over George's decortitator and continued to rape the land of trees, knowing full well that eventually the timber would run out. Since newspaper companies had a vested interest in all of these industries, they were more than willing to lead the propaganda campaign. Therefore, the first aspect of industrial hemp that we shall look into is the production of paper.

All fiber containing by-products may be used in the production of paper. Right now, though, this process is far more expensive than wood pulp. These costs are currently artificially high because of transportation costs in bringing the fiber from across the oceans, the equipment for non-wood paper production is obsolete, and governments across the globe have denied any help to those attempting to set up the proper processing plants, thast is until recently. Paper making is primarily the rearranging of elementary fibers from any source, be it a tree, hemp stalk, an old pair of jeans or even a scoop of algae, into a flat ,thin sheet. While wood pulp paper can only be recycled 4 or 5 times, hemp paper, since the fibers are so strong, can be recycled up to 20 times.

Most of the research done in hemp genetics is directed towards creating the highest quality and quantity of fiber yield possible, resistance to weeds, insects and disease, and a low THC content. Once the hysteria over marijuana has disappeared and the crops have adapted to their environment, the potential for new strains of hemp which far out produce the fiber we make today may be developed. Some research done by the Agricultural Research Department in the Netherlands with 92 different populations of hemp, gives us an excellent example of the range of yields in hemp. Total bark content in drug strains and wild plants is about 12%, while modern strains of hemp produce up to 28%. As the bark content increases, the hurds decrease in total weight from 74% to 52%, while the primary fibers goes from 10% to 23%, secondary fibers from 1% to 10%. It was found that attempting to grow strains with a fiber content over 28% resulted in too huge of an increase in secondary fibers, which negatively effects quality and costs. Primary bark fibers are longer than secondary fibers, which makes the plants yielding the highest amount of primary fiber the most valuable, and both are longer than the fibers in woody core. Fibers are comprised of a link of chains of cellulose molecules, the building blocks of trees and many other plants. This rigid structure is gives strength and flexibility to the tissue by gluing together the cells with lignin and pectins. While the bast fibers produce the best quality paper, the hurds can be used to produce paper for most of our needs, thereby maximizing the production of each plant by utilizing each component part with the most economically feasible product possible.

Except for as paper and fiber board production, hurds are used as barnyard litter and stable bedding, a substitute for sawdust in packing ice and, in rare cases, for fuel. Until the idea of producing paper from hurds came into the picture this century, they were considered to be useless by-products. Now there is a large movement towards the full production of hurd-based paper.

The steps taken for processing fiber into paper are as follows:

1) Cleaning- the fibers need to be washed clean of all dirt, rocks and other contaminants.
2) Fibering- separating the fiber from the hurds by either chemical process or mechanically ripping them apart. This is now pulp.
3) Cutting- some long fibers need to be cut to size.
4) Classification- fibers are sorted by length (Centrifugel and gravitational processes) and size ( various seizing processes).
5) Bleaching- if paper or board needs to be bleached, and the whiter the paper the better contrast with the ink, hemp pulp can be bleached with relatively harmless hydrogen peroxide.
6) Refining- the fiber surfaces are roughened so that the fibers adhere better to each other, strengthening the paper.
7) Dilution- the pulp is diluted (up to 200 times wider than wood) to lay the fibers in a homogeneous sheet.
8) Formation- the fiber/water is poured through a fine wire mesh which catches the fibers.
9) Drying- the flat sheet is dried by pressing and steam boiling.
10) Sheeing- the formed sheet is cut to size.

This process is basically the same for both manual and mechanical production of paper, dating back thousands of years. Different sizes and lengths of fibers determine the quality of the paper produced. One problem that does not seem likely to go away when hemp hurds are used in wide-scale production of paper is that the fiber must be stored outside for long periods of time without serious harm being done to them. If the bales of hemp are left in dampness it could cause excessive dilution of the caustic liquor or pectin, and the stalks will deteriorate quickly. Hence, this expense must be factored in when one considers the cost of conversion to non-wood sources of pulp.

Several factors must be considered when comparing wood pulp production with hemp or any other annual crop. Although the cultivation, transportation and storage costs of hemp may be higher, currently, than for wood, there are other factors which must be looked at. We must always keep in mind that these expenses will be dramatically reduced once full-scale production begins. For one, the process of breaking the logs down to fibers small enough to make paper is much more expensive, energy consuming and labour-intensive than it is for hemp. Hemp needs less caustic soda in the fiberizing process. Every tract of 10,000 acres of hemp, raised year after year in rotation, is equivalent to a sustaining pulp-producing capacity of 40,500 acres of old growth clear-cutting, on average. This is including the fact that the weight of a cubic foot of hurds is about 5.4 lbs as compared to a cubic foot of popular chips which weighs about 8.93 lbs. This 1 acre of hemp to 4 acres of trees ratio may be a bit misleading, though, because if hemp were grown in full-scale production it is likely that the fiber would be used for other products, while the hurds would be used exclusively for paper production.

Actually, it has been suggested that garbage dumps may be able to supply us with most of the cellulose fibers we need for paper and cardboard production, combined with as little as a 15% hemp fiber content needed to construct a hard, useful paper product. These factors would not necessarily curb hurd paper production because the hurds are much less expensive than the fibers and an excessive supply of hurds has historically been more of a problem than a resource possibility. As for the actual costs of producing hemp paper, it is very hard to predict. As modern equipment and technology vaults into the next millennium, we may find processes which will drastically reduce the costs of hemp paper. The costs of wood pulp, in economic and environmental terms, will soar through the roof. Certainly, recycling fiber materials of all sorts will become a priority in the future.

There is another possible market, however, which will considerably increase the value of hurds, and that is fiberboard production. Isochanvre, a French company created by France Perrier, has developed several patents from which two types of products are created. Isochanvre Isolation (insulation) is poured or blown in roof trussings, floors, partition walls and backing. Isochanvre insulation fibers are mixed with pure cement without additives, to be used for flagstones, walls, floor leveling, insulative coating, insulating for mortar for stone walls, etc. Ms. Perrier has developed a process which can mineralize plant saps and resins. This could work for any biomass material, but he prefers to use hemp, for a variety of reasons. Isochanvre is 100% environmentally friendly, no toxic gases are released during it's growth or production, no noise pollution or polluted water are exhibited in it's manufacturing process and, to top it all off, it is entirely recyclable, so if the fibers are no longer good for paper or fiberboard production, they can be used to build homes.

You can build an entire house, except for the electrical wiring, from Isochanvre products.There are many benefits, besides the environmental and philosophical reasons, as to why over 150 homes made out of hemp are standing in France, with the volume of sales increasing by 50% each year. Because of it's very high thermal inertia, Isochanvre is exceptionally qualified as a thermal protectant, keeping rooms cool in the summer and significantly reducing the heating costs in the winter. A conventional wall of 20 cm, plus a screen wall, insulation barrier, vapour barrier and plaster, is equivalent in strength and effectiveness as a 20cm wall of Isochanvre. So the 2 step process of installing the Isochanvre wall, thinly coated with a natural lime, which allows the wall to breath, is much faster and inexpensive than standard wood/concrete construction. One cultivated hectare of hemp, 6 to 8 tons, or 60 cubic meters of Isochanvre, is enough to build an entire Isochanvre house of 135 square meters. All of these factors combined give a strong indication that hemp hurds will eventually supply most of the biomass we need to build our homes, schools and workplaces.

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There are real possibilities that in the future, biomass could produce most of the energy that we need. Several biomass conversion techniques are being developed which produce not only liquid petroleum fuels, but petroleum-based products such as plastics, cellophane, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), etc. These are the methods being developed now:

1) Ethanol produced by food crops with high sugar or starch content. This fuel is compatible with spark plug-type internal combustion engines, but cannot be used in diesel vehicles. This well establish technology is already operating on a commercial scale. The most efficient crops to produce this type of ethanol using this method are sugarcane, sugar beets, maize, cassava, pineapple, sweet sorghum and potatoes.

2) Ethanol is produced by fermenting and distilling lignocellulose material from trees, grasses and agricultural crops. This process involves the hydrolysis of cellulose into fermentable sugars and then into ethanol, in a very similar method to the previous one. However, not only grasses, shrubs, fast growing trees and some hardwood trees, but fast growing water plants, such as water hyacinth, sea kelp, and even algae could supply biomass, at a much faster rate than most other plants could ever attain.

3) Methanol, wood alcohol, is produced from wood, crops and grasses, at least theoretically, because this process has not actually been done yet. Currently, methanol is commercially synthesized from natural gas. When accomplished directly, the lignocellulosic material is converted into a synthetic gas in a high temperature thermochemical process, then the gas is cleaned to the proper hydrogen ratio, liquefied and catalytically converted into methanol. It is the first step in this process into which more development needs to be done.

4) A fuel very similar to diesel fuel can be obtained from vegetable crops by pressing their seeds and refining the oil. The waste product is excellent livestock food. The possible crops include oil palm, coconuts, soybeans, sunflowers, cotton, rape, groundnuts, and, of course, hemp. This fuel is almost interchangable as a food oil.

5) Pyrolysis, or fractional distillation, is the process used by petrochemical companies to convert ancient fossilized biomass into fossil fuels. Georgia Tech and Tech-Air developed the technology in 1972 to create charcoal, oil and combustible gas from forestry waste. The system can vary the distribution of energy among the products by controlling the operating conditions, the air-to-feed ratio, the size of the reactor, etc. This method produced approximately 100 gallons of methanol per oven dried ton of biomass. This process is the most effective form of biomass conversion, as the other methods are criticized for not having the potential of supplying our present, phenomenally huge, consumption of energy.

The U.S. National Fuel Commission's 1980 Final Report concluded that the process of converting biomass into energy, as compared to the use of coal for electrical production, was more feasible for a number of reasons. Biomass is renewable and available locally. It is easier to burn and gasify. It is at least 10 times lower in sulfur content, so no abatement procedures are necessary for sulfur or nitrogen. Biomass waste can be used as a fertilizer, whereas coal ash has no value. Coal conversion mobilizes trace metals and coal tars are very highly carcinogenic, coal mining is destructive, and coal production increases CO2 in the atmosphere. The cost of transportation for biomass is much less than that for coal. Also the actual conversion process of turning biomass into energy is easier and faster than coal. Pyrolitic conversion could supply the United States with 75 Quadrillion BTU (75 Quads) of energy, roughly their annual consumption, by simply converting 6% of continental U.S. acreage. If concentration is placed upon growing high yielding biomass crops, then 5 billion dry tons of biomass could produce 75 Quads, each dry ton making about 15 million BTU. It is obvious to many that much more research is needed into all these technologies, so that we may discover which methods work best, with what crops in particular areas of the world. One thing is certain, however. One day fossil fuel will run out. Period. Whether or not hemp is the best source for producing biomass for energy is a question which is still up for debate.

Although it is obvious that hemp is one of the fastest producers of biomass among agricultural crops, there are other factors to consider which favour the use of other sources of energy. The more efficiently a plant captures light energy and uses it to assimilate carbon dioxides into carbon, the greater the biomass yield potential. A process known as c-4 photosynthesis is how some plants convert the sun's energy into matter, which is much more efficient than the processes used by most plants, especially dicots like hemp. For example, cassava, sweet potatoes, kenaf and mesta can yield up to 9 ton/acre, sweet sorghum 15.6 ton/acre, Napier grass 29 ton/acre and sugar cane can yield between 33 to 46 ton/acre. Since these plants are also multipurpose, some widely dispersed across the planet, biomass growth for energy will probably be from crops other than hemp.

Many food processes produce a waste product, such as nut shells or tomato vines, which could be used for fuel. Many weeds and shrubs which are cut down beside highways could be collected for biomass. Water hyacinth is a noxious weed which can yield up to 16 ton/acre and is har›vested to prevent clogging in lakes and waterways. Farm animal waste can produce methanol. Yard waste has a high cellulose content and makes for excellent biomass. Algae and other water plants may also be better energy producers than hemp. Other sources of energy, such as solar or wind power and possibly the use of water as biomass, must also be further looked into as we approach the inevitable shortage of fossil fuels. When hemp is grown en mass, it is likely to be used for purposes other than energy, even though it is possible. However, since sugarcane and other plants which produce more biomass than hemp grow in tropical or sub-tropical climates, in the northern hemisphere hemp may one day be a good option.We should also take into consideration the fact that hemp should be grown in a rotation, and that these other crops could be used for energy purposes. It is unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, anyway. Another factor to consider is that some of these crops must be processed quickly, while other crops would require large storage facilities.

Seed oil fuel is another option which has already been explored. In fact, in 1937, Henry Ford had developed a prototype car which not only burned hemp seed oil, but the bumpers, body, interior and doors were comprised out of hemp as well. Unfortunately, production was stopped before it could get started, but the technology has been available ever since. A Russian variety, Olerifera, reportedly contains 40% oil, while 30% is the most quoted figure. The high protein cake which makes up the remaining weight is an excellent raw food source. A good seed crop can yield up to 1200 lbs /acre and the potential for larger yields is very good. In comparison, flax seeds contain 36% oil and sunflower seeds, 40-50% oil. A soybean crop Yields 2400 lbs/acre, groundnut 1160 lbs/acre, rape seed 900 lbs/acre and sesame, 715 lbs/acre. The oil extracted from all of these seeds can be used as a liquid fuel for diesel engines, precision motor oil and aircraft motors, as well as the human body. This process is 100% environmentally friendly, right from the harvesting and production, to the waste products from production and burning, to the conversion of the biomass into energy. Since hemp oil, and most other seed-based oils, burns at a lower temperature than fossil fuel, it is much easier on the engine, carburetor and exhaust systems. It is possible to design vehicles which burn hemp oil, have a body and interior made from hemp fiber and drives on hemp roads, which would last for a very long time and which would be 100% recyclable after being used.

Hemp oil has many other uses than fuel. Soothing rubs can be made from the oil, and even from the roots, too. Hemp oil is very effective at protecting the skin from sunburns, relieving the pain of a burn and preventing peeling. Another traditional use of hemp seeds is for house paints, stains and inks. This was one of hemp's saving graces in the 30's because the use of hemp oil in paint companies such as the Shawn William's Co., along with others from a few birdseed companies, which testified before the hearings of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, led to the provisions of that law which have allowed the current resurgence of hemp products in North America,. In 1937, Shawn William's Co. imported 135, 000 lbs of hemp seeds, in addition to the production at a large Texas plantation, to produce a paint which soaked into the wood. This preserved the wood much better than most other paints and vanishes, did not induce headaches among the workers in the factory, and hardens the wood's surface to make it scratch resistant, while bringing out the natural beauty of the wood. Most of today's paints and varnishes are made from a flax (linseed) oil which only forms a thin layer over the wood, encouraging rot and easily peeling off over time. If hemp oil is boiled before being used, the drying time decreases. Hemp was the original base for printing inks, but it has been replaced by flax because it dries faster. The new, non-toxic soy-based inks that are appearing on the market are not as good as hemp ink and is harder to process because hemp contains 57% LA and 19% LNA as compared to soy oil at 50% LA and 9% LNA.

We will discuss the specific nutritional details concerning hemp seeds in the chapter on medical hemp, but we should mention here that hemp seeds have been used as a food source for millennium. Many cultures continue to use hemp seeds in their traditional and daily recipes. One of the most over-looked and most important new industries which will result from the revival of Cannabis sativa is the nutritional value of the seeds and the food made from them.

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It is really quite impossible to correctly determine the exact economic effect the mass production of hemp will create. The most obvious and enormous factor to consider is that the reintroduction of hemp will almost definitely be coinciding with the legalization of medical marijuana, which poses a few uncertain problems and exciting possibilities. We will look more at this later. There is also the fact that there is little to no modern equipment which could be used on a large scale, and little research done of the cost effectiveness of manufacturing hemp products. Those with the most to gain are the farmers, the communities which support them, and those who move towards a hemp-based lifestyle.

Money is not the only factor we need to consider in our choice of consumer products. Other things such as environmental harm, in the production, consumption and waste of our goods, the labour practices of the company involved, from the acquisition of the raw materials to the production of the goods or services, where the profits from the purchase end up contributing to and the quality of the product itself, all help determine where we spend our hard earned money. Another factor which is difficult to predict is the exact prices that farmers will receive for the seeds, fibers and hurds since we are not yet sure how this transformation towards an eco-friendly means of living will occur, or how quickly the processing factories can be built, or when governments will begin allowing farmers to freely grow hemp.

We must also consider the fact that many companies and entire industries will collapse and disappear forever when communities have the ability, technology and raw materials to supply most of their necessities with hemp. The shift in the way we look at life, and our role on this planet as it's most 'intelligent' species, will be reflected in the speed which our society begins to put it's money where it's mouth is and start purchasing hemp and other eco-friendly products in an attempt to solve our growing environmental problems. Money and cost of production should only be secondary concerns in this process, of course.

In fact, some might argue that money should be the last consideration in our decision to buy products, and for many this is a reality. These people who consider the environmental damage done in producing, consuming and disposing the products that they buy are beginning to generate more and more momentum behind ideas like recycling, organic foods, and low-impact lifestyles. Sales of hemp products since 1990 have sky-rocketed from nothing into millions of dollars, and as more people in the environmental movement discover the facts about hemp and marijuana, the forces behind the resurgence of Cannabis sativa grows stronger in knowledge and dollars every day.

Everywhere, everyday, someone is waking up from their hereditary slumber and observing for the first time this deteriorating world we more 'advanced' humans are living in. Whether it is because they learned that the cotton industry uses 55% of the chemicals produced by manufacturers in the USA to dump into our ground and water supply to protect the cotton plant from a variety of different pests and diseases, or because they learned that if the ozone layer continues to disappear at an increasingly faster rate every year we will eventually no longer be able to expose ourselves to direct sunlight, it doesn't matter. Whether it was a good mushroom trip, or an enlightening experience washing the breakfast dishes, it doesn't matter. The fact is that so many people are jumping on the cannabis bandwagon because it is the most intelligent solution that we have for most of these problems. There is more than enough evidence to show that if we reconsider our spending habits, we can drastically cut our rates of consumption and waste without hurting our lifestyles and healing the planet. A non-violent, organic, holistic, open-minded and friendly atmosphere often surrounds people who smoke marijuana and/or purchase eco-friendly products. This attitude is slowly but surely growing, behind the scenes and in the hemp stores, as well as coffeshops, farms and streetcorners around the world.

Many industries will be born in this impending agricultural and environmental revolution. Small businesses which produce locally grown hemp products sold in neighbourhood stores will begin to appear and expand all over the globe. Education will be seen as being a life-long quest, and it will be an important and exciting aspect of our daily lives as science and technology bring the latest information to our fingertips in the blink of an eye. No one can accurately describe the effects the on-coming technological evolution will have upon the human race, but there is no doubt that we must become a more compassionate and thoughtful community if we truly wish to help the planet out of it's current downward spiral, using the newest available technology to the best of our ability. Although many condemn prohibition for causing many of the evils and misfortunes of humankind, others protest that without this period of repression, we would not have developed our current scientific knowledge. We need to embrace hemp to build a foundation upon in this transformation of our collective production, consumption and waste, before our planet falls into ruin.

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Copyright 1996 by Leon Smith
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