Hawaii to Evaluate Hemp for Biofuel

By Anna Simet | April 25, 2014

Talk of hemp, or Cannabis sativa, as an energy crop has come and gone in waves for many years with little traction.

Though a high-yielding, low-input crop that is perfectly suitable for use in a variety of products including durable clothing, nutritional products and plastic and composite materials, it is still illegal to grow in some countries. That includes the U.S., according to federal law, as well as the United Kingdom, because of marijuana-yielding breeds and drug laws. Some U.S. states have made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal, but none have any activity yet.

That is, besides Colorado, of course. And just this week, Hawaii legislators approved a bill that will focus on the study of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and phytoremediation resource.

By definition, phytoremediation is the environmentally-friendly science of using plants and trees to remove toxins in the soil, such as metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives and crude oil.  The toxins are be reduced by planting specific plants and trees in polluted areas, plants that draw in the toxins, and can later be harvested and disposed of.

As far as the biofuel component of the bill goes, it says that preexisting biodiesel plants in Hawaii are capable of meeting eight percent of the state's biodiesel needs for ground transportation, and that plants could potentially increase efficiency by utilizing industrial hemp as a feedstock, thus reducing the state's reliance on imported fuel.

For those two reasons, the bill authorizes the dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. It does have quite a few strict stipulations to prevent undesired consequences. From the bill itself:

*The department of agriculture shall certify that the seed stock to be used in the research program is for growing industrial hemp.  If the seed stock cannot be verified by the department of agriculture as industrial hemp seed stock, the dean shall not commence the growing or cultivation of industrial hemp for the research program.

*The research program shall use only one test site to grow and cultivate industrial hemp.

*Industrial hemp is definted as Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis. 

*No person shall be subject to any civil or criminal sanctions in this state for growing or possessing industrial hemp, provided that the person's growing or possession of industrial hemp is part of the person's participation in the two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program and the person's participation is in full compliance with the requirements of the program.

*The department of agriculture shall test and monitor the plants growing on the test site to ensure that no marijuana is grown on the site.  If marijuana is found to be growing or being cultivated on the test site, then the research project shall cease immediately.

The project begins in July, and runs through July 2016. I’m sure it will yield some interesting results, and hopefully help Hawaii—at least to some degree—in its quest to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels.