Renewable energy sources and modern alternatives to fossil fuels are more important now than they’ve ever been. If we want to create a better future, or at least impede the overwhelmingly negative impact humanity has had on the Earth, we need to start coming up with realistic solutions right now.
Many scientists and entrepreneurs are doing just that, and they’ve already come up with some amazing alternatives. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and Tesla founder, already has plans to make homes and automobiles operational through solar energy exclusively, there’s a farm in the Australian desert that uses solar power and ocean water to produce thousands of tons of food 365 days out of the year, and researchers have already developed the first translucent solar panel that could theoretically be used on windows or phone screens.
Inventions and developments like these aren’t just revolutionary, they’re essential. If we hope to make any discernable difference in the near future, we need more like them in order to move forward. This is especially true in regards to modern modes of transportation, which is something Alaska Airlines understands perfectly.
Recently, a flight from Tacoma, Washington to Washington, D.C. relied solely on the use of biofuel to carry its passengers. They claim to be the first airline to ever do such a thing, and they used a wood-based alternative to fuel the commercial flight. Alaska Airlines claims to have used 1,080 gallons of the biofuel during the flight, and although it’s more expensive at the moment, it burns more cleanly, doesn’t require fracking, cause potential oil spills, or create any other harmful impact on the environment.
If things go according to plan, the airline hopes to have removed much of its traditional fuel from its fleet by 2020.
Traditional jet fuel is a hydrocarbon, which is obtained only through the kerosene fraction of crude oil. Right now, there are two approved types of jet fuel that can be used in commercial aviation: Jet-A and Jet A-1. The regulations are strict, but as greener fuels continue to be tested and developed, the aviation industry will have no choice but to adapt.
It isn’t just biofuel that’s starting to change the industry though, and solar airplanes are also expected to make their debut. Although no airlines are using solar energy exclusively, it’s expected to become more prevalent in the near future.
However, one of the biggest problems airlines face when it comes to using biofuels is the source. A wood-based alternative isn’t necessarily ideal, but hemp could be extremely successful. Hemp is a plant that’s incredibly easy to grow, and it doesn’t require any pesticides to cultivate in mass quantities.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that the fiber crop Cannabis Sativa, otherwise known as industrial hemp, has properties that make it very useful as a raw material, feedstock, or for producing biodiesel, which is a sustainable diesel fuel made from renewable plant sources.
Richard Parnas, a professor who led the study explains why hemp could be the key.
“For sustainable fuels, often it comes down to a question of food versus fuel,” he explains, “It’s equally important to make fuel from plants that are not food, but also won’t need high-quality land.”
What we need is a plant that isn’t used for food, like many modern biodiesel alternatives, and something that doesn’t deplete an already depleted natural resource like forests. What we’re left with is yet another positive use for cannabis.