Afghanistan's Biofuel Revolution

Seeing the news that President Obama is sending more troops into Afghanistan, our gaze turns from Iraq to the place where the Taliban has made a resurgence and where Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden have been hiding out near the border of Pakistan. Fueling this terrorist incubator has been the explosive growth of the poppy trade, the main source of funding for the Taliban and pretty much every terrorist organization in the area. So instead of just fighting this war militarily- which results in countless deaths and billions of dollars spent- couldn't we take a preemptive tactic to remove the Talibans main source of funding by buying up all of the poppy crops in Afghanistan (which produces more than 90% of the world's opium supply)? Pay above market value and do it under the stipulation that every hectare of land be replanted with biofuels that would thrive in that climate/condition. And guarantee both help with the agriculture- state of the art equipment, the latest knowledge and high-yield seeds to grow- and with moving the finished product straight into the biofuel production chain at a fair or above market price. Give them the incentive to sell their current crops to us, give them the tools and knowledge to grow replacement crops- biofuels and food- and then guarantee them a fair (or more than fair) market price at the end. Start them on a cycle of energy independence while ending both the illegal drug trade and the main source of funding for terrorist networks. It is hugely less expensive than waging a military war and it encourages diplomacy and economic prosperity while undermining the root financing of terrorism. And there is even one piece of that puzzle already in place, though it is not seen through the right prism. And that is cannabis/hemp.

Besides poppies, which are used to make heroin and opium, the other huge Afghani crop is cannabis, which is grown for hash production and is considered part of the "war on drugs" and the "war on terrorism" because it is seen as fueling both. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that some 70,000 hectares of cannabis were grown in Afghanistan in 2007, up from 50,000 in 2006 and 30,000 in 2005. Afghanistan appears to be overtaking the world's top cannabis grower, Morocco, where the multi-billion dollar cannabis harvest halved from 2003 to 2006. However, cannabis/hemp is a known and tested biofuel that could be harnessed as the solution to the problem instead of viewing it AS the problem. It is drought-resistant, pest-resistant, environmentally friendly and much more productive and cost-effective than current biofuel crops such as corn, which requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel it produces. An acre of hemp can produce ten times the methanol that an acre of corn can, and can do it faster with less fertilizer. Plus, the crops are already planted and thriving! Check out this bit of information from The Independent, dated today (Feb. 19th):

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board said in its annual report that due to overproduction of opium there has been a rise in the production of cannabis in Afghanistan. Many provinces which had been declared by the Afghan government and Nato to be free of poppy cultivation have switched to cannabis. The report stated: "The lack of security in Afghanistan has severely hampered government efforts to eradicate illicit opium poppy; a total of 78 persons involved in the eradication efforts lost their lives in 2008, a six-fold increase over the previous year. The increase in illicit cultivation of cannabis in Afghanistan is also a worrying development."

Instead of a "worrying development," we could be praising Afghanistan for increasing their biofuel crops. Add to that uses for fiber, food and medicine and you have a truly valuable crop with which to wean Afghanistan off of poppies, oil and terrorism. All it takes is a change in how we see hemp/cannabis and it's many uses, which of course includes reviewing its illegal recreational stature. There is no doubt that the prohibition of cannabis (and industrial hemp) has had more negative effects on society than the actual usage of the drug. Under it's current state of illegality, we have a multi-billion dollar untaxed cash crop, a black market shadow economy, the associated crime and violence inherent with prohibition, plus a prison system overwhelmed and overloaded with simple possession cases so there aren't enough resources for violent criminals and terrorists. With simple decriminalization, plus rigorous scientific testing to maximize it's usage, industrialized cannabis/hemp could actually bring on the end of the war in Afghanistan, defund the War on Terrorism and easily halve the "War on Drugs" that we've waged on drug users in this country, freeing up billions of dollars and countless resources to apply to real threats or redirect into our crumbling economy- all while freeing us from our own addiction to foreign oil. If we hew to scientific data and end the empty rhetoric and political posturing that keeps cannabis/hemp from being scientifically tested or utilized, we can move forward with a biofuel revolution just waiting to happen. It's a win-win for US taxpayers, for our strategic goals abroad and for the planet and all its residents.

Check out: NY Times on Afghanistan's New Cash Crop:

The Geopolitics of Afghani hash:

Henry Ford's Hemp Car:
Way back in the 1930's, Henry Ford was hard at work in the alt-fuels sector, and in 1941 he constructed a hemp-fueled and hemp-bodied prototype car. The "plastic" body panels were composed of 70% cellulose fibers, including industrial hemp, mixed with a resin binder, and apparently they were pretty sturdy!

ENERGY CRISIS: Ford And Diesel Never Intended Cars To Use Gasoline
When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was "the fuel of the future" in 1925, he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry. "The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust -- almost anything," he said. "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."

More on Henry Ford and biofuels:

Hemp- the environmentally sustainable alternative
Shows Henry Ford making biodegradable car parts!

More facts on hemp for fuel, food, fiber, medicine and industry:

Popular Mechanics 1938 issue calling hemp a "billion dollar crop":

According to a 1938 Popular Mechanics article calling hemp a Billion Dollar Crop, hemp hurds "can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane". That's just the hurds. When you factor in the fiber, the oil and the resin, the number of products hemp can produce is closer to 50,000. Almost everything that isn't glass or metal - including paper, pressed particle board, fabrics, plastics and concrete - can be made from hemp. With a massive manufacturing base to reflect its massive utility, there will be plenty of hemp waste to make fuel from, driving the price down considerably.
Why I Don't Write About Biofuels by John J. Fanning (Chief Engineer Magazine)
Cellulose-sourced hydrogen good enough for fuel cells (Feb. 12, 2009)
"If a small fraction--2 or 3 percent--of yearly biomass production were used for sugar-to-hydrogen fuel cells for transportation, we could reach transportation fuel independence...."
The many uses of hemp: