What Bill Weinberg Misunderstands About Hemp Ethanol
CANNABIS CULTURE – “Now that hemp has finally arrived at its long-sought status as a legal crop and commodity, to what extent will it deviate from the utopian vision that animated the advocates who fought for it a generation ago?”
– Bill Weinberg, HEMP: FROM MYTHOS TO MONOCULTURE, August 27th, 2020
Bill Weinberg is a long-time cannabis activist and a hero of mine. He wrote for such periodicals as High Times and Overthrow beginning in the 1980s, and performs a selfless service maintaining such websites as http://countervortex.org/, which is a review of geopolitics from a left-wing perspective, and https://www.globalganjareport.com/, a one-man cannabis information project.
Bill always does great work, and I rarely disagree with him on things (our differences are mainly limited to conspiracy vs. coincidence theories or whether left wingers are evil/fatally flawed or just ignorant about some topics) but he really screwed up his last evaluation on hemp ethanol – so much so it inspired me to write a rebuttal.
Bill wrote an article for Project CBD entitled: “HEMP: FROM MYTHOS TO MONOCULTURE – The Curious Cultural Trajectory of Industrial Cannabis”
and then reposted the article on his Global Ganja Report website.
Bill made five major mistakes that require correction.
Mistake #1: Hemp biodiesel is expensive, but hemp ethanol is approx. 5 times cheaper than gasoline.
“Eric Steenstra acknowledges this reality: ‘Petroleum is still dirt cheap, so it doesn’t seem like the economic conditions are there. Hemp biodeisel is a lot more expensive than gasoline.’”
This is true, which is why it’s unfair to evaluate hemp fuel on hemp biodiesel. Hemp biodiesel is made from hemp seed – which is too valuable as a food to serve as a fuel. Hemp ethanol is made from the stalk, and it’s much, much cheaper. According to the US government, the average cost of gasoline per gallon is $2.17.
This, of course, is the price without taking into account the costs of climate destabilization, oil wars, oil spill cleanup, cancer from the oil industry and all the other “externalities” that simply don’t exist with hemp ethanol.
Biofuel experts estimate that the cost of making hemp ethanol lies somewhere between a high of $1.37 per gallon and a low of 0.33 cents per gallon when all tax credits and technological advances are accounted for:
“According to biofuel expert Tim Castleman, hemp ethanol could be produced for 1.37 per gallon plus the cost of the feedstock, with technological improvements and tax credits reducing the price another dollar or so per gallon!” CIFAR Conference XIV, “Cracking the Nut: Bioprocessing Lignocellulose to Renewable Products and Energy”, June 4, 2001
http://fuelandfiber.com/Hemp4NRG/Hemp4NRGRV3.htm (dead link) http://potfacts.ca/hemp-ethanol-is-about-five-times-cheaper-than-gasoline/
“Hemp Cellulose for Ethanol: Another approach will involve conversion of cellulose to ethanol, which can be done in several ways including gasification, acid hydrolysis and a technology utilizing engineered enzymes to convert cellulose to glucose, which is then fermented to make alcohol. Still another approach using enzymes will convert cellulose directly to alcohol, which leads to substantial process cost savings.
Current costs associated with these conversion processes are about $1.37[vi]per gallon of fuel produced, plus the cost of the feedstock. Of this $1.37, enzyme costs are about $0.50 per gallon; current research efforts are directed toward reduction of this amount to $0.05 per gallon. There is a Federal tax credit of $0.54 per gallon and a number of other various incentives available. Conversion rates range from a low of 25-30 gallons per ton of biomass to 100 gallons per ton using the latest technology.”
Just to drive that point home, the low price for hemp ethanol – 33 cents per gallon, is about 6.6 times cheaper than the current price for gasoline at depressed prices – plenty of wiggle room for retailers to make their margins, with enough of a margin to give the consumer substantial savings.
Mistake #2 – the veracity of how hemp ethanol is carbon-negative.
Weinberg writes: “Nor is it clear that on balance biofuels put any less carbon into the atmosphere than gasoline.”
Weinberg says he has read my article on just how carbon negative hemp ethanol is. If he has read it, he has totally ignored the evidence of this being the case.
“Each crop produces as much oxygen as it will later produce of CO2 if every bit of it is burned as fuel, creating a balanced cycle. Furthermore, hemp deposits 10 percent of its mass in the soil as roots and up to 30 percent as leaves which drop during the growing season. This means that some 20 to 40 percent more oxygen can be produced each season than will later be consumed as fuel – a net gain in clean air. Call it a ‘reverse greenhouse effect’.” (22)
More recent evaluations of hemp as a carbon sink consider it the “best possible option” (23) and “more efficient than agro-forestry” (24) and that it absorbs C02 “4 times faster than a forest”. (25) As one research team put it;
“As global CO2 levels rise, cannabis (hemp) plants grow larger naturally. For every ton grown above-ground, another half a ton of carbon is stored in the soil as root mass, where it belongs.” (26)
Weinberg quotes Conrad saying “and some 10% of the plant mass stays in the ground, in the roots.” but ignores what he said about hemp leaves (not used in fuel production) accounting for up to another 30 percent of the C02 being sequestered. That’s a lot of carbon to ignore.
Mistake #3 – equating corn ethanol with hemp ethanol.
Weinberg writes: “Hemp may be less fertilizer-intensive than corn, but that doesn’t make it exempt from the fundamental problems, in Smolker’s view.”
Weinberg ignores all the evidence that hemp is FAR superior to corn as an ethanol crop – over 15 times better:
Hemp is a superior energy crop to corn for many reasons. Hemp: A) doesn’t need as much fertilizer or water as corn, switchgrass or other energy crops, (17) B) doesn’t require the expensive drying required of corn and sugar cane, (18) C) can be grown where other energy crops can’t, (19) D) has long been known to be the lowest-moisture highest-cellulose crop – ideal for fuel production. The hemp stalks are “over 75% cellulose” according to a 1929 paper from Schafer and Simmonds with more conservative estimates indicating the hurds being between 32% and 38% percent cellulose, while the bark is between 53% and 74%, (20) E) is much more energy efficient than corn. One estimate states that corn has a 34 percent energy gain, while hemp has a 540 percent energy gain. (21) This means hemp is nearly 16 times as efficient an energy crop as corn!
Mistake #4 – Weinberg ignores the effect of factoring the health and environmental costs of raising livestock into land availability.
Weinberg quotes a biofuel skeptic: “It takes a lot of land to convert any kind of biomass into enough fuel to run automobiles, so I don’t think that’s going to make a huge amount of difference in terms of the overall equation of using plants for fuel.”
Weinberg doesn’t explain why it would be impossible to simply factor the health and environmental costs into the cost of raising livestock, thus freeing up more than enough land to use hemp as a fuel crop:
According to one source, the United States has 60 million acres of idle arable land. (34) According to another source, the United States has 52 million acres left fallow, 38.1 million acres for ethanol production (mostly from corn), 127.4 million acres for livestock feed, 21.5 million acres for wheat exports, 13.6 million for “cotton/non-food”, 62.8 million acres for other grain & livestock feed exports, 77.3 million acres for domestic food production, for a total 391.5 million acres of cropland. (35) Separate from all this land use is livestock grazing land – which is extensive. (36)
If the health and environmental costs of each product were factored into the price tag and over-regulation of hemp was removed, hemp would suddenly replace much of these other crops. Fallow land could be replaced with hemp ethanol farming that was either field retted or biochar-amended, in order to replenish soils while at the same time hemp would choke out all the weeds. Corn for ethanol would be replaced with hemp for ethanol – a much more water and energy efficient choice. Livestock – due to it’s environmental costs – would become more expensive, and hemp seed would then suddenly become a preferable source for protein – and one could get both hempseed and hemp ethanol from the same crop. Cotton – which is pesticide and water intensive – would be replaced with hemp for fabric. (37)
One estimate for how much US land is needed to produce enough biomass energy to meet US needs is “6-8% of the land area of the 48 contiguous 48 states”. (38) For comparison, 41% of US land is used to feed and graze livestock. (39) Another way to calculate the area needed is to start with the fact that an acre of hemp can produce the equivalent of a thousand gallons of gasoline. (40) In 2012, the people of the United States used 134 billion gallons of gasoline (41) down from a peak of 142 billion in 2007. At one thousand gallons per acre, this would require 134 million acres of hemp ethanol-growing land to replace. If you add up all the fallow land, corn ethanol land, cotton land and half the livestock feed land, you get 167.4 million acres – more than enough to become energy self-sufficient.
A willingness to factor in the health and environmental costs into the cost of each product is needed to evolve into a sustainable species. We are faced with being forced to consider the ecology, the environment and the wellbeing of ourselves, farmers and future generations in order to survive. Many indigenous cultures have these ecological considerations as foundations of their religious beliefs (42) – it’s not impossible to imagine a global culture emerging with the same ecological foundation within both it’s economic and spiritual communities.
Mistake #5 – Weinberg requires “a smoking gun” – a document proving that a decision was made in the interest of the few at the expense of the many – for the issue of “conspiracy” behind hemp prohibition to be relevant. But a lower standard is warranted – merely the presence of a “probable conflict of interest” is enough to justify an exploration of the evidence, and an attempt to eliminate such conflicts in the present and future.
The entire process of the creation of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 is fraught with behavior that only corruption can explain:
In 1930, a 38 year old named Harry Anslinger became the founding commissioner of the Treasury department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. His wife’s distant relative was head of the Treasury at the time – Andrew Mellon.
Anslinger’s wife, Margaret, was distantly related to Andrew William Mellon by the marriage of her aunt and her uncle into the Negley family. Margaret’s aunt, Sarah Gerst (1872-1954), married Edward Cox Negley (1874-1942). Edward Cox Negley was the great-grandson of John Jacob Negley. Margaret’s uncle, Eugene Gerst (1864-1942), married Kate Edna Negley (1871-1940). Kate Edna Negley was the great-granddaughter of John Jacob Negley. In other words, Margaret’s aunt and uncle married Negley cousins.
Mellon was also the head of Gulf Oil and the Mellon Bank, which would help finance the take over of General Motors by DuPont in the 1920s, and facilitate the creation of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which would keep DuPont’s new invention – Nylon – and Mellon’s investments in oil safe from having to compete with hemp fibers and hemp ethanol.
David Malmo-Levine, “Recent History”, The Pot Book – A Complete Guide to Cannabis, edited by Julie Holland, 2010, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, pp. 31-32
Hemp is, after all, the best fuel crop, and currently has the highest source of cellulose of any energy crop used in temperate zones.
Multi-criteria evaluation of lignocellulosic niche crops for use in biorefinery processes, May 2011, Stephan Piotrowski, Michael Carus, nova-Institut GmbH, Chemiepark Knapsack, Industriestraße, 50354 Hürth, Germany, www.nova-Institut.de/nr, [email protected], p. 21
Coincidence theorists believe conflicts of interest such as this are accidental, and exceptional, and rarely acted upon. Students of history will note, however, that there are very few accidental billionaires. The never-successfully-refuted conflict of interest was exposed by Jack Herer in the Emperor Wears No Clothes, a book that spawned the hemp movement of the 1990s, which itself gave rise to the medical and recreation pot movements that arose around the time of the new millennium. Herer exposed the conflict of interest between the Dupont’s duty to it’s shareholders and it’s ability to effect social policy to the short-term benefit of it’s shareholders and to the long-term detriment of humanity;
In DuPont’s 1937 Annual Report to its stockholders, the company strongly urged continued investment in its new, but readily accepted, petrochemical synthetic products. DuPont was anticipating “radical changes” from “the revenue raising power of government… converted into an instrument for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization.” (DuPont Company, annual report, 1937) …
This prospect was alluded to during the 1937 Senate hearings by Matt Rens, of Rens Hemp Company:
Mr. Rens: Such a tax would put all small producers out of the business of growing hemp, and the proportion of small producers is considerable… the real purpose of this bill is not to raise money, is it?
Senator Brown: Well, we’re sticking to the proposition that it is.
Mr. Rens: It will cost a million.
Senator Brown: Thank you. (Witness Dismissed)
… In the secret Treasury Department meetings conducted between 1935 and 1937 prohibitive tax laws were drafted and strategies plotted. ‘Marijuana’ was not banned outright; the law called for an “Occupational excise tax upon deals, and a transfer tax upon dealings in marijuana”.
Importers, manufacturers, sellers and distributors had to register with the Secretary of the Treasury and pay the occupational tax. Transfers were taxed at $1 an ounce; $200 an ounce if the dealer was unregistered. Sales to an unregistered taxpayer were prohibitively taxed. At the time, “raw drug” cannabis sold for one dollar an ounce. The year was 1937. New York State had exactly one narcotics officer.
After the Supreme Court decision of March 29, 1937, upholding the prohibition of machine guns through taxation, Herman Oliphant made his move. On April 14, 1937 he introduced the bill directly to the House Ways and Means Committee instead of to the other appropriate committees such as food and drug, agriculture, textiles, commerce etc.
The reason may have been that Ways and Means is the only committee to send its bills directly to the House floor without the act having to be debated upon by other committees.
Ways and Means Chairman Robert L. Doughton, a key DuPont ally, quickly rubber-stamped the secret Treasury bill and sent it sailing through Congress to the President.”
Chapter 4: The Last Legal Days of Cannabis in The Emperor Wears no Clothes: The Authoritative Historical Record of the Cannabis Plant, Marijuana Prohibition, & How Hemp Can Still Save the World by Jack Herer, 11th edition, 2000, pp. 25-33, see also: Recent History by David Malmo-Levine in The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis edited by Dr. Julie Holland (2010) pp. 30-32
Anyone who dared question any part of their narrative – anyone who didn’t subscribe to their agenda – was castigated by those involved in crafting the legislation and then ignored. For example, the May 4th, 1937 testimony of Dr. William C. Woodard, the legal council for the American Medical Association:
Mr. Lewis: Are there any substitutes for the latter psychological use?
Dr. Woodward: I know of none. That use, by the way, was recognized by John Stuart Mill in his work on psychology, where he referred to the ability of Cannabis or Indian hemp to revive old memories, and psychoanalysis depends on revivification of hidden memories.
That there is a certain amount of narcotic addiction of an objectionable character no one will deny. The newspapers have called attention to it so prominently that there must be some grounds for there statements. It has surprised me, however, that the facts on which these statements have been based have not been brought before this committee by competent primary evidence. We are referred to newspaper publications concerning the prevalence of marihuana addiction. We are told that the use of marihuana causes crime.
But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marihuana habit. An informed inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.
You have been told that school children are great users of marihuana cigarettes. No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit, among children.
Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it.
Inquiry of the Office of Education— and they certainly should know something of the prevalence of the habit among the school children of the country, if there is a prevalent habit— indicates that they have had no occasion to investigate and know nothing of it.
Moreover, there is in the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service, with its Division of Mental Hygiene. The Division of Mental Hygiene was, in the first place, the Division of Narcotics. It was converted into the Division of Mental Hygiene, I think, about 1930. That particular Bureau has control at the present time of the narcotics farms that were created about 1929 or 1930 and came into operation a few years later. No one has been summoned from that Bureau to give evidence on that point.
Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have had no record of any marihuana of Cannabis addicts who have ever been committed to those farms.
The bureau of Public Health Service has also a division of pharmacology. If you desire evidence as to the pharmacology of Cannabis, that obviously is the place where you can get direct and primary evidence, rather than the indirect hearsay evidence.
But we must admit that there is this slight addiction with possibly and probably, I will admit, a tendency toward an increase.
Dr. Woodward would continue to maintain that the evidence of harm from cannabis did not exist, and the people crafting the Marijuana Tax Act didn’t like a little thing like a lack of evidence of a problem get in the way of making a great effort to stop that problem. They claimed Dr. Woodward’s efforts to tell the truth about the medical effects of pharmaceutical cannabis or street weed was uncooperative:
Mr. Dingell: We know that it is a habit that is spreading, particularly among youngsters. We learn that from the pages of the newspapers. You say that Michigan has a law regulating it. We have a State law, but we do not seem to be able to get anywhere with it, because, as I have said, the habit is growing. The number of victims is increasing each year.
Dr. Woodward: There is no evidence of that.
Mr. Dingell: I have not been impressed by your testimony here as reflecting the sentiment of the highclass members of the medical profession in my State. I am confident that the medical profession in the State of Michigan, and in Wayne County particularly, or in my district, will subscribe wholeheartedly to any law that will suppress this thing, despite the fact that there is a $1 tax imposed.
Dr. Woodward: If there was any law that would absolutely suppress the thing, perhaps that is true, but when the law simply contains provisions that impose a useless expense, and does not accomplish the result—-
Mr. Dingell (interposing): That is simply your personal opinion. This is kindred to the opinion you entertained with reference to the harrison Narcotics Act.
Dr. Woodward: If we had been asked to cooperate in drafting it—-
Mr. Dingell: You are not cooperating in this at all.
Statement of Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Counsel, American Medical Association, Chicago, Ill., TAXATION OF MARIHUANA, Tuesday, May 4, 1937, House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Washington, D.C. http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/woodward.htm
Coincidence theorists might attempt to explain away such actions by arguing that a bias against cannabis was to blame – a bias so powerful that one would disregard the expert testimony of the representative of the American Medical Association. A far more likely scenario is that those who paid the piper – those who financed the elections of the representatives responsible for marijuana prohibition – called the tune. Rockefeller was American’s first billionaire.
According to Morris Bealle, the Rockefeller family “financed Roosevelt’s original foray into politics”
Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Tax Stamp into law.
No doubt America’s first billionaire had, by 1937, not only the president, but much of the legislative branch of the United States in his pocket. Back in 1899, just as Rockefeller was becoming America’s first billionaire, a cartoonist named Horace Taylor drew a cartoon with a giant, 500 foot tall Rockefeller picking up the white house and holding it in his hand, with a thousand oil drums surrounding congress in the background. It was titled “What a Funny Little Government!” and can be found online to this day in a dozen different places with a simple Google Image search. This is the reality that one would have to ignore if one were to pretend that it is improbable that the hemp substitute industries did not use their influence to make hemp illegal – or to keep it illegal – or to think the entire issue irrelevant unless an actual smoking gun was produced. The fact that they had the motive, the means and the opportunity should be enough for most people.
In conclusion, hemp ethanol is possibly the only viable carbon negative renewable energy source, and the only thing capable of reversing the greenhouse effect and saving the world. We do it – and us – a disservice to ignore the evidence for this element of the hemp economy. Hemp is our co-evolutionary plant partner – it deserves a fair shake, and a comprehensive review of it’s environmental and economic potential.
For those who wish to learn more about hemp ethanol, I suggest beginning with this article here: