Hemp has been making headlines all across the country for several years now. Supporters praise its versatility and eco-friendly production. Opponents cite it as a gate-way to drugs and corruption. Regardless of possible moral and political complications, the economic benefits of the hemp plant are taking root in many industries, including textiles, construction, and automotive. Is the aircraft industry next?
Derek Kesek, of Hempearth, is seeking financing for a hemp based aircraft through a crowd sourced funding campaign. The project, estimated to cost $500,000, is being constructed by a small aircraft manufacturer in the United States. The body panels will be made of at least 75% hemp, giving it several advantages over traditional fiberglass. Initial testing of the panels have shown them to be both stronger and lighter than their fiberglass counterparts. They are also carbon neutral, whereas the fiberglass panels release chemical styrene into the atmosphere.
If the green construction of the four seat aircraft isn’t enough to get environmentalists cheering, this last feature will be. Kesek plans to run the plane on locally sourced hemp bio-diesel. Aircraft fuel has never been viewed as having a positive environmental impact, but that might be about to change. While powering cars with hemp is nothing new, (Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to use it), firing up a plane with hemp is unknown territory. In fact, the search is still on for a company that can reliably produce aircraft grade hemp bio-fuel.
This is all very exciting news. However, the question remains: how does legalizing marijuana and hemp help the economy?
One of the biggest hurdles to hemp cultivation is the current debate over marijuana laws. Even in states currently growing test hemp crops, people are confused about the difference between medical and recreational cannabis, and industrial hemp. The general public is afraid that farmers will be growing high-grade THC amongst the hemp. For those familiar with growing marijuana, that notion is preposterous, as they grow completely differently.
The simplest way to end the fear that illegal pot will be grown in legal hemp fields is to legalize all types of cannabis. Once all cannabis crops are permitted, the door will be fully opened for industrial hemp to re-claim its rightful place as one of the world’s most versatile crops. Innovators in the United States will be free to experiment openly with new products, such as aircraft grade body panels, and high-grade bio-hemp jet fuel.
Even with all of these roadblocks, the pending construction of the small hemp based aircraft is a step in the right direction. It’s an uphill battle, but Kesek is confident that his hemp plane will be ready to depart from Kitty Hawk, N.C. by spring of 2016. If hemp planes make it to the mainstream production line, that will mean new jobs for hemp farmers, processors, and manufacturers. Not to mention all the recreational herb that will be needed to fuel those creative minds.
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