Excerpted from "Energy Farming in America," by Lynn Osburn, copyright Aug. 16, 1989
BIOMASS CONVERSION to fuel has proven economically feasible, first in laboratory tests and by continuous operation of pilot plants in field tests since 1973. When the energy crop is growing it takes in CO2 from the air, so when it is burned the CO2 is released, creating a balanced system.
Biomass is the term used to describe all biologically produced matter. World production of biomass is estimated at 146 billion metric tons a year, mostly wild plant growth. Some farm crops and trees can produce up to 20 metric tons per acre of biomass a year. Types of algae and grasses may produce 50 metric tons per year.
This biomass has a heating value of 5000-8000 BTU/lb, with virtually no ash or sulfur produced during combustion. About 6% of contiguous United States land area put into cultivation for biomass could supply all current demands for oil and gas.
The foundation upon which this will be achieved is the emerging concept of "energy farming," wherein farmers grow and harvest crops for biomass conversion to fuels.
PYROLYSIS IS THE TECHNIQUE of applying high heat to organic matter (ligno-cellulosic materials) in the absence of air or in reduced air. The process can produce charcoal, condensable organic liquids (pyrolytic fuel oil), non-condensable gasses, acetic acid, acetone, and methanol. The process can be adjusted to favor charcoal, pyrolytic oil, gas, or methanol production with a 95.5% fuel-to-feed efficiency.
Pyrolysis has been used since the dawn of civilization. Ancient Egyptians practiced wood distillation by collecting the tars and pyroligneous acid for use in their embalming industry.
Methanol-powered automobiles and reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants can be accomplished by biomass conversion to fuel utilizing pyrolysis technology, and at the same time save the American family farm while turning the American heartland into a prosperous source of clean energy production.
Pyrolysis has the advantage of using the same technology now used to process crude fossil fuel oil and coal. Coal and oil conversion is more efficient in terms of fuel-to-feed ratio, but biomass conversion by pyrolysis has many environmental and economic advantages over coal and oil.
Pyrolysis facilities will run three shifts a day. Some 68% of the energy of the raw biomass will be contained in the charcoal and fuel oils made at the facility. This charcoal has nearly the same heating value in BTU as coal, with virtually no sulfur.
Pyrolytic fuel oil has similar properties to no. 2 and no. 6 fuel oil. The charcoal can be transported economically by rail to all urban area power plants generating electricity. The fuel oil can be transported economically by trucking creating more jobs for Americans. When these plants use charcoal instead of coal, the problems of acid rain will begin to disappear.
When this energy system is on line producing a steady supply of fuel for electrical power plants, it will be more feasible to build the complex gasifying systems to produce methanol from the cubed biomass, or make synthetic gasoline from the methanol by the addition of the Mobil Co. process equipment to the gasifier.
FARMERS MUST BE ALLOWED TO GROW an energy crop capable of producing 10 tons per acre in 90-120 days. This crop must be woody in nature and high in lignocellulose. It must be able to grow in all climactic zones in America.
And it should not compete with food crops for the most productive land, but be grown in rotation with food crops or on marginal land where food crop production isn't profitable.
When farmers can make a profit growing energy, it will not take long to get 6% of continental American land mass into cultivation of biomass fuel—enough to replace our economy's dependence on fossil fuels. We will no longer be increasing the CO2 burden in the atmosphere. The threat of global greenhouse warming and adverse climactic change will diminish.
To keep costs down, pyrolysis reactors need to be located within a 50 mile radius of the energy farms. This necessity will bring life back to our small towns by providing jobs locally.
HEMP IS THE NUMBER ONE biomass producer on planet earth: 10 tons per acre in approximately four months. It is a woody plant containing 77% cellulose. Wood produces 60% cellulose.
This energy crop can be harvested with equipment readily available. It can be "cubed" by modifying hay cubing equipment. This method condenses the bulk, reducing trucking costs from the field to the pyrolysis reactor. And the biomass cubes are ready for conversion with no further treatment.
Hemp is drought resistant, making it an ideal crop in the dry western regions of the country. Hemp is the only biomass resource capable of making America energy independent. And our government outlawed it in 1938.
Remember, in 10 years, by the year 2000, America will have exhausted 80% of her petroleum reserves. Will we then go to war with the Arabs for the privilege of driving our cars; will we stripmine our land for coal, and poison our air so we can drive our autos an extra 100 years; will we raze our forests for our energy needs?
During World War II, our supply of hemp was cut off by the Japanese. The federal government responded to the emergency by suspending marijuana prohibition. Patriotic American farmers were encouraged to apply for a license to cultivate hemp and responded enthusiastically. Hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp were grown.
The argument against hemp production does not hold up to scrutiny: hemp grown for biomass makes very poor grade marijuana. The 20 to 40 million Americans who smoke marijuana would loath to smoke hemp grown for biomass, so a farmer's hemp biomass crop is worthless as marijuana.
It is time the government once again respond to our economic emergency as they did in WWII to permit our farmers to grow American hemp so this mighty nation can once again become energy independent and smog free.
For more information on the many uses of hemp, contact BACH, the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp, Box 71093, LA, CA 90071-0093, 213/288-4152.