Despite the US federal government’s traditional disdain for certain cannabis ingredients and byproducts, recent research and development indicates that large storage batteries made from a water-based electrolyte and lignin polymers—the substances gluing fibers together in hemp and in wood that give it stiffness—can be substituted in many cases for lithium, lead or vanadium in batteries.
Lignin shows promise for large, low-cost electrical grid storage facilities designed to discharge during peak cold weather conditions or in emergencies. With low leakage batteries in place, a natural gas shutdown in Texas in February 2021 would have left fewer Texans in shock and awe of the chaos of climate change. Many Lone Star Staters were completely left out in the cold.
Trees are a huge carbon sink and require preservation, while hemp lignin is a fast growing material that favors peace on earth and good will toward humanity. Hemp can reduce the harvesting of trees while simultaneously cleaning contaminated soil. It’s cheap and easily produced. Used in place of lithium it discourages the British interests and the US Congress’s temptation to knock off democratically elected governments to gain exclusive access to South American lithium deposits.
Lignin from hemp provides the starting material for a circular economy that can make war on petroleum while transforming the polymer industry by phasing out fossil fuel formulated plastics and adhesives in favor of biologically-based recyclables.
Hemp lignin applications are infrastructure boosters and lifesavers. Sizeable charged battery modules can transport stored electrical power to disaster areas. They can provide backup power for entire homes or businesses. Although not as superior in overall performance as lithium, more and better options exist for lignin batteries than supercapacitors which discharge their energy in a much shorter period. Leakage rates are low. Performance capabilities comparable to lead-acid batteries allow lighter weight lignin tech to be retrofitted to diesel-electric freight trains to run without diesel fuel. Retrofits are made simpler because locomotives already run on electric motors with diesel generators producing electricity. Freight trains currently emit 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide plus other gases and soot from diesel fumes, leading to illnesses each year that cost $6.5 billion to treat and up to 1,000 premature deaths annually. Hemp byproducts are cost-competitive with diesel and current battery technologies and can save the rail industry $94 billion over 20 years.
If the intent is to move quickly to the greenest technologies, then state and federal legislation that favors or stipulates sourcing lignin from hemp rather than timber is a better solution for the ecosystem and farming industries, especially in aiding and transforming the economically challenged coal belts of West Virginia and Wyoming. Switching to hemp, American farmers still tied to the marginal profits of their current produce could finally catch a break. Hemp processors might want to consider the possibility that the lignin they dispose of or burn in the making of fibers and fabrics has a potential value.
A robust hemp and solar industry in rural areas could also help counter the DEA’s and FDA’s mishandling of the regional opioid crisis. Fewer lives of despair due to less poverty and more certainty about a better future can lead to fewer rural suicides and drug ODs. Political support for a hemp economy from the record number of 49% of adults in the US who have smoked weed is virtually guaranteed.