While its technically legal for UK farmers to grow industrial hemp with a licence from the Home Office the process is anything but straightforward. However while it may be difficult for UK farmers to grow hemp it is still illegal for US farmers to do so. Here is an interview with the owner of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap, a product which is made from the oil of hemp seeds. They currently have to purchase all their hemp seed from Canadian farmers. The largest market for industrial hemp products is the US. So for the crop to still be illegal in these tough economic times is a real insult to US farmers. A typical hypocrisy is how hemp products were sold to support President Obama’s re-election and he him self has constantly avoided the issue of the laws of growing industrial hemp in the US. The owner of Dr Bronner’s Soap, David Bronner takes the issue so seriously he was willing to get arrested for it. He put some industrial hemp plants in the back of a trailer with a cage and parked in front of the White House. After about 3 hours David was arrested but it did help to raise the debate in the press. There are over 30,000 products which can be made from hemp. From our perspective our interest is in hemp fuel pellets. Currently the pellet fuel market uses sawdust wastes. In the future the sawdust wastes available will not be sufficient to support market demand. Therefore we have two options at that point, either mature tress are used for pellet fuel or we use other forms of biomass. Using mature trees for fuel is not a sustainable or responsible approach. Therefore it will come to using other biomass like straws and other agri by-products, fasting growing wood (willow/popular) and grasses. Other biomass materials like straws and grasses can create combustion issues compared to wood. However hemp grows faster than almost any other biomass and produces a fuel pellet that burns like a wood pellet. Therefore we believe that hemp has a key role to play in the future of the pellet fuel market.
If you currently own a pellet stove or pellet boiler or are looking to start using pellets there is a very important lesson to learn. Above all else you must keep your wood pellets away from moisture or you will end up with a wet mush that can only be used as mulch on your garden. The video to the right was uploaded by woodpellets.com to demonstrate to their customers what happens if your wood pellets get wet. While this is obviously on the extreme end of the scale, it does accurately illustrate how the wood pellets draw in the moisture. This is why wood pellets make excellent horse bedding. As stated that volume of water is very rarely going to come into contact with your fuel pellets, however even keeping the pellets exposed in an environment with a high humidity can create issues. In these conditions the pellets at first sight will appear the same as when they were delivered. However if you pick up a pellet and put it under horizontal pressure you will notice it breaks much more easily than before, or may even crumble. So as stated in the video, if you get deliveries of pellet bags you need to check the bags for tears and holes and repair them with duck tape. This is the same advice whether you have wood pellets or you are using other biomass fuel pellets such as grass pellets. If you have a pellet silo or some other pellet storage solution you will obviously not have the same issues as pellets in bags, however this does not mean you shouldn’t check the systems every now and again. Moisture absorption as stated while ideal for horse bedding is an issue for developing the pellet fuel market. However in the future the technology will become available for the production of torrefied wood pellets. Torrefaction of wood is very similar to the process of roasting coffee beans. You basically dry off most of the moisture and parts of the wood which you do not want as a fuel. The result is like a man made coal. Torrefied wood does not absorb moisture and can even be stored outside in the rain. Torrefied wood pellets produce no smoke, no smell and very little ash.
In western cultures pellet fuel is really only used for heating purposes or perhaps for our BBQ’s. However in countries like India they are using pellet fuel for an alternative purpose in the form of cooking stoves. Two significant issues in India are fuel poverty and health issues from breathing in smoke from inefficient fires used for cooking. For instance a typical day for a mother in India is to go and collect wood for the fire. This not only takes up much of her day it can in some cases also add to deforestation. The wood will then be used in most cases on an open fire within the home. She and her children will then breath in this smoke leading to various health issues and many deaths per year. LPG and alike are very expensive in India therefore alternatives need to be made available. Several projects now are developing gasification pellet stoves as you can see in the video above. These stoves using the principles of gasification can burn the pellets very efficiently and dramatically reduce dangerous emissions. The stoves produce more heat and produce heat more quality than an open fire. However the fuel pellets are not actually made from wood they are made from a much more abundant local material, agricultural residues. We have consulted with various projects where they are looking to setup a local pellet mill operation. The farmers will bring in the waste straw etc from their fields. In return they will be given back pellets made from this fuel. In some cases these projects are setup by charities in other cases they are small commercial operations. There are so many advantages to these projects for the individuals and the local economy as a whole. There are also efforts to apply the same model to electric generators. Gasification can be used to produce a gas to run an internal combustion engine to provide towns with a stable source of power which they have never had before. Thanks for reading and any questions on turning agricultural waste into pellets please ask below.
One of the growing markets for pellets is the animal bedding industry, particularly for horse bedding. Traditional horse bedding materials include straw and wood shavings, however they present issues. First is the amount of storage space required for these low density bulky materials that have to be kept under cover so they can operate as effective bedding. Secondly is the dust issue these can present to the horses and their lungs. Finally is the time it takes to clean out the stable. Wood pellet bedding can help to address all these issues. However do all wood pellets perform the same as bedding? I’ve found a video of a comparison test using a set amount of different brands of wood pellets and a set amount of water. The pellets are then left for an hour to see how much water they have absorbed and how dry the bedding feels to the touch. There are different grades of pellet bedding, typically economy and premium. At the premium end there are differences in dust percentage, particle size and colour. The premium horse bedding pellets meet the ENplus standard which is the highest grade for fuel but also proves the lowest dust levels currently possible. Some people have reported differences in the absorbency of the premium bedding and the larger particle size. This may mean the manufacturer is changing the screen on their hammer mills. A large particle size entering the pellet mill can put more load on the press and therefore consume more electricity raising production costs but potentially making a better bedding. Finally a lighter colour is seen in the premium grade as its easier for the customer to spot where in the stable needs cleaning. This will be achieved through using a higher percentage of a softwood such as pine. Using hemp shiv could also be another alternative as this would produce a light coloured pellet. The video above does demonstrate more of a difference in pellet absorbency than many people would think. Thanks for reading and please comment below.
There are lots of different materials which can be compressed into fuel pellets. We get a lot of questions about processing waste materials, and while most of them can be used in the pellet mill the end product may not produce in terms of a fuel an ideal product. A definite exception to this rule would be horse manure/bedding waste. Another similar example would be chicken manure/bedding waste. For the owners the disposal costs of this material can be significant therefore making use of the material is an opportunity to turn a cost into a profit. Typically the base bedding material will be straw, hay, shavings or in some cases actually wood pellet bedding. Once the horse manure and bedding is ready for disposal before it can be used for pellet production it needs to be dried. The video above is of an impressive drying system developed by LEI Products that uses their Bio Burner to generate hot water which can then be used to dry the horse manure. Typically the manure will be at a moisture content around 40% and will need to be dried down below 15% ready for the pellet press. This drying system uses two large augers. At the end of the first auger the material enters a hammer mill with a large screen. This is designed to reduce the particles down so that more effective drying can take place. After the second auger and drying has been completed the material can then run through a fine hammer mill screen of 5mm ready for the pellet mill. You may think why not do this to start with as a smaller particle size will dry quicker. The reason is trying to hammer mill wet material through a 5mm screen the only thing that will happen is a blockage of the hammer mill. Now that the horse manure is dry and in small particles it can be compressed into 6mm or 8mm pellets for stoves and boilers. Horse manure pellets produce a high BTU, low ash and low emission fuel and therefore hold a lot of potential as a locally produced fuel. Thanks for reading and please comment below.
Henry Ford back in 1941 produced a car with body panels made from hemp, and biodegradable internal parts made from hemp plastic. In the video to the right you can see footage of this video, how a sledge hammer could be used on the panels and not to leave a mark. The panels were said to be lighter than steel and 10 times stronger. Henry Ford probably developed the car as a response to the US governments encouragement to grow hemp in their ‘Hemp For Victory’ campaign. What Henry Ford was not aware of is that after the war had finished the US government would then ban hemp again, destroying any possibility that the hemp car could reach the mass market. This was not the first time Henry Fords efforts to produce ‘green’ cars was halted. The Model T was designed to run on ethanol produced from agricultural materials, in fact at one point 25% of the fuel market for the car was provided for by ethanol. However prohibition become law (a bill which was funded by John D. Rockefeller ‘Standard Oil’). This made fuel ethanol also illegal. Henry Ford continued to produce cars which could run on ethanol for many more years, however eventually gave up. One year after the last Ford was produced which could run on ethanol, prohibition ended. Now the reasons I like to share this information is to demonstrate how the uses of Hemp have been proven many times, yet today we still cannot fully utilize this crop. Miscanthus, Switchgrass and other biomass energy crops all produce burnable fuel pellets, but they all fall short of hemp on a sustainability basis and a fuel quality basis. In our small scale pellet plants we can process whole hemp or the shiv. Shiv is the woody core of the plant which is left over after the fibers have been removed for other products. The material is reduced in size through a hammer mill and then these particles are metered into the pellet press. Under high heat and pressure in the pellet mill a hemp pellet is formed.
There are lots of markets for pellets, not just the standard fuel and animal feed pellets most people use. While niche markets are obviously smaller they can still present a good profitable opportunity especially for small pellet mill machines such as the Mini Pellet Mill. One such market is fish bait and we have sold Mini Pellet Mill’s to clients to produce product for this market. Fish bait can be made from a wide range of materials, and as there is such a wide range of products but a small volume of pellets needed its often a market large pellet plant operators ignore. With a product such as the Mini Pellet Mill you can quickly and easily change product batches and produce small volumes of pellets to meet either market demand or even individual customer demand. For instance we have one client who produces custom bird feed to farmers with specific medication mixed in. Above is a video of one brand of fish bait and the hempseed pellets they sell. The first thing they wish to point out is that their pellets are made from purely hemp seed and not the rest of the plant which is made from fibre and shiv. Other fish bait providers may use the whole plant to bulk out the product, however it does probably make an inferior product as fish bait. As stated the advantage to hempseed pellets as apposed to loose seed is they will keep better and are easier to store. Also they are easier and quicker to break down in the water to attract the fish. Using hempseed for fish bait pellets again provides another use for the highly versatile hemp plant. I often state that as sources of waste wood for premium grade wood pellets are used up we should move to using hemp shiv to produce good quality fuel pellets. Fish bait as a product is something our small pellet plant customers could also consider. During the summer months production of fuel pellets maybe low and alternative products such as fish bait may bring in additional income. With a pellet business its good to have a diverse product range. Thanks for reading please comment.
Hemp other than wood is the best biomass material you can use to produce low ash fuel pellets. Therefore as waste sawdust is becoming more limited in supply we need to be able to grow industrial hemp to provide fuel for pellet stoves, boilers and even power plants. However while hemp can be legally in grown in many places around the world such a Europe (you still require a licence though) the US still has an outright ban on the crop. However it never used to be this way, for instance in World War 2 the US government actively encouraged farmers to grow the crop. However there is a new push to try and get the crop legalized again driven by senators such as Rand Paul and in this video senator Ron Wyden. It’s worth noting that both republican and democratic representatives are behind these amendments. Senator Wyden starts off his presentation by highlighting the economic benefits of the crop, particularly to rural areas. The issues are that a hemp industry does threaten the profits of many other powerful companies which currently have many lobbyists in Washington and they also make significant campaign contributions. Currently Canada benefits significantly from the US law as they export a huge volume of hemp products over the boarder, as the US is the largest market for hemp products in the world. In terms of fuel pellet production the part of the plant we are interested in is the woody shiv. This part of the plant is also used as a building material when mixed with lime. However when used in the building trade the hemp shiv is sieved to remove the dust and smaller particles which they do not want. It is these smaller particles and dust which can then be processed through a hammer mill to produce a consistent particle size and then compressed in the pellet mill. The ash content of these pellets is between 1-2% which is significantly lower than grass pellets which will produce 3-5% ash. This makes hemp pellets comparable to wood pellets, please comment below.
Hemp is an extremely versatile crop and has been grown for thousands of years. Over the past decade the crop has been demonised to suit the goals of various wood pulp and petro-chemical interests, however people are now becoming more aware of why hemp is such an important crop. While it is still illegal to crop the crop in the US, Canadian farmers are happily growing hemp seed and then selling that product in the US market to produce food products and other products such as hemp soap. There are even small niche markets you may not even think of such as hempseed pellets for fishing. However as one Canadian farmer explains in this video they currently have no demand for the fibre or woody shiv of the hemp plant. However this should change in the next few years with Hemp Technology from the UK building a new hemp processing plant in Alberta, Canada. The plant will take in the hemp (after the seed has been harvested) and separate the fibre from the shiv. The fibre can be used for clothes and many other uses and the car industry is starting to take an interest in hemp again. The shiv has a use as a building product. Once mixed with lime the material sets as hard as rock but also has a high insulation value. Its also breathable and maintains a healthy indoor environment at the right humidity. There is another market for the shiv which can be developed, and that is for fuel pellets. The fuel pellet market is currently dominated by premium grade wood pellets, with some niche companies also offering grass and straw pellets. However the waste wood used for fuel pellets is a limited supply and grass and straw pellets produce more ash, clinker and corrosion issues so many stoves and boilers cannot use them. Hemp pellets produce the lowest ash and lowest corrosion of any other biomass beside premium grade wood pellets. Therefore these fuel pellets can be used in most pellet stoves and boilers. Thanks for reading and please leave your comments below.
For the biomass energy industry to grow we also need to encourage other industries to use stainable crops. The waste or surplus from these other industries can then be compressed into fuel pellets. One of the best biomass energy crops is hemp, as it can produce fuel pellets comparable to wood pellets. Hemp has over 30,000 uses, and even the US government during World War 2 produced videos encouraging farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. Even to this day all boot laces used by the US military are made with hemp fibre due to its strength. The founding fathers of America such as George Washington were also hemp farmers, and made it law that you must use part of your land to grow hemp as it was that important of a crop to society. This particular video is from the marketing director of Hemporium in South Africa on the house they have constructed. The walls of the house are made from hempcrete blocks which is mixture of the woody centre of the hemp plant known as shiv and lime. A chemical reaction takes place and a hard construction block is produced that is both light and high insulating. We are currently restoring an old stone cottage and hempcrete will be used as an interior plaster to insulate the building. Hempcrete is perfect for this purpose as it also breaths well, so will not create issues with damp as common plasters do in old buildings. The biggest issues for hemp usage are the law. For instance there is a huge market for hemp products in the US but US farmers are not allowed to grow the crop. Therefore all hemp products are currently imported from Canada or the raw materials are. Even here in the UK and Europe while you can legally grow hemp with a licence, getting one of those licences is not easy at all. Hemp can address many of the issues we face today but until the legal issues are addressed it will remain as a niche product when it could be a large part of our economic solution.