Evaluating Cannabis as a Green Energy Source

Written by Robert Hammell

With increased fuel costs, and climate change appearing to accelerate, the world is looking to new energy sources. [1] One option that presents an exciting possibility as a biofuel is cannabis. Non-feedstock-derived bioethanol holds the potential to lower the greenhouse effect and produce higher energy. [2] As one of these potential sources, cannabis could transform not only our energy sector, but also several other industries as well. A new Canadian study identified three areas where cannabis can change major industries: biofuel, bio-oil, and as an absorptive material. [3]


Cannabis-Based Biofuels

Cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin from cannabis provide numerous applications to replace traditional fossil fuels across various industries. [4] Cannabis is highly cellulosic and holds promise as a fuel source via bioethanol and biobutanol production through the fermentation of its simple sugars. [5,6] Waste cannabis holds the added advantage of not competing with foods like corn, potatoes, sugar, or molasses.

What’s more, cannabis has the potential to replace petroleum chemicals in the production of succinic acid, which is used in solvents, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. [7] The trend towards organically sourced succinic acid has emerged in the last several years as petroleum prices have forced scientists to search for cheaper alternatives. The most exciting potential that cannabis has in the green energy sector is to produce biohydrogen, biodiesel, biogas, and bioplastics. [8-11] These exciting possibilities could lead to a transformation of the auto industry, biomass fuel powering homes and commercial buildings, and even the airline industry.


Bio-oil and Its Challenges

Another cannabis-derived compound with green industrial potential is lignin, an organic plant polymer that provides for things like water transport and structural support. Lignin has the potential to create bio-oil, but it does come with a caveat. [12] With a higher concentration of oxygen, cannabis-derived lignin would be too corrosive to engines in their current forms, and would require additional hydrodeoxygenation prior to use. [13]. Like the petroleum replacement possibilities listed above, cannabis-derived lignin holds the potential to change various industrial fields.


Material Absorption and Biocomposites

Cannabis lignin fibers also work well as an absorption material as they demonstrated the successful removal of carbon dioxide, lead, and zinc from an aqueous solution. [14] Lignin is not always consistent in its absorption, but when combined with inorganic material, it may be possible to achieve absorption rates greater than 90% of various metals and dyes. [15] Lignin may also be combined (up to 40%) with other building materials to create wood biocomposites, allowing for more sustainable building practices while minimizing deforestation.


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Robert Hammell

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