Bamboo and Hemp: The Next Generation of Biofuel
Throughout the years, we’ve seen the rising potential of the palm as the next source of fuel. It produces way fewer carbon residues than fossil fuels. It is also cheaper and has a higher yield than any other vegetable oil in biofuel production. Nonetheless, palm as a biofuel has its limitations, such as high viscosity and low gross of heat combustion. Mass production of palm can cause deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and demands a lot of water. This leads us all to wonder; is palm oil even that “green”? Hence, other alternatives for biofuel source is urgently needed. There are two promising-yet-unheard-of candidates for biofuel, and they can’t be more different from each other — bamboo and hemp.
Bamboo for Biofuel
Bamboo is a highly sustainable biomass resource with many functions. As lignocellulosic biomass, bamboo can be converted chemically to fuels. There are many advantages of using bamboo for biofuel. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing crops, and it is resistant to changing climate conditions. It doesn’t require pesticides and only consumes low (or no) fertilizers. Bamboo has a high biomass yield of 45-50%. The potential greenhouse gas emission reduction of bamboo biofuel compared to fossil fuel is between 70% and 300%.
Despite its myriad potential, the importance of bamboo as an agricultural and biomass resource is often unrecognized. Some European countries are starting to utilize bamboo as their biofuel source, which is reasonable since the production of bamboo there reaches 700 tonnes/year. Meanwhile, bamboo production in Indonesia is still limited to traditional uses, like building chairs and tables. Thus, the required biomass for biofuel still needs to be further cultivated and allocated.
Hemp for Biofuel
Hemp is an herbaceous annual from the Cannabinaceae family. It was one of the first plants to be turned into usable fiber back then. Hemp is also lignocellulosic biomass. It can grow under various climatic conditions due to its resilience to the external environment. Studies have found that hemp has the highest biomass yield among notable biomass (40-59% of cellulose). With a high biomass yield, hemp can produce a high amount of energy. In addition, hemp doesn’t require a lot of money and is easy to grow. In terms of sustainability, hemp is very non-harmful to the environment; it requires little water, produces oxygen exceedingly, and returns 60-70% of the nutrients it takes from the soil.
Hemp, Cannabis Sativa L.
Cultivation of hemp used to thrive until its stigma of being a narcotic started emerging. Although belonging to the same family, hemp is different from marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp doesn’t have any psychoactive properties. The cultivation of hemp is currently concentrated in Europe. Indonesia still categorizes hemp as a drug in category 1 as specified under UU No. 35 of 2009 on Narcotics. Unless changes are made, the cultivation of hemp in Indonesia will not be happening any time soon.
Bamboo and Hemp in a Nutshell
High growth rate and resilient to external environment
High growth rate and resilient to external environment
Biomass yield: 45-50%
Biomass yield: 40-59%
Biomass Conversion to Biofuel
Since both bamboo and hemp are lignocellulosic biomasses, the common method for conversion to biofuel is fermentation to produce ethanol. Ethanol cut down smog-causing pollutants in gasoline. Lignocellulosic biomasses’ main constituents comprise lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose. Lignin creates a barrier to enzymatic attack and microbial digestion. There are two ways to deconstruct it; high-temperature deconstruction (pyrolysis, gasification, and hydrothermal liquefaction) and low-temperature deconstruction (using biological catalysts or chemicals). Deconstruction is a part of pretreatment to open up plant structures, making hemicellulose and cellulose more accessible. After that, hemicellulose and cellulose are broken down enzymatically during hydrolysis.
The Role of Pretreatment in Lignocellulosic Biomass
(source: Zhao et al, 2020)
Enzymatic hydrolysis is crucial as the enzymes facilitate bonds cleavage. Its function is to increase the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Lastly, biomass ferments into ethanol through anaerobic digestion.
Despite which biomass we choose, the transition of the energy sector toward an environmentally-friendly system will take time. Both plants have their advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it all comes down to the cultivation and conversion process that significantly decides how sustainable and efficient the biofuel will be. Countries need to keep their eyes open to seeking more potential biomass resources as a strategy for environmental management and to tackle climate change. As a society, our job is to be more aware of the impacts we have on the environment and develop ways in which we can reduce them.
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Zhao, J., Xu, Y., Wang, W., Griffin, J., Roozeboom, K., Wang, D. 2020. “Bioconversion of industrial hemp biomass for bioethanol production: A review”. Fuel, 281.