Hawaii law authorizes industrial hemp research for biofuels

By Erin Voegele | May 02, 2014

On April 30, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed legislation into law that allows the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program.

According to information released by the governor’s office, the bill, S.B. 2175, authorizes the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp in accordance with requirements established by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7. Section 7606 of that legislation allows higher institutions and state departments of agriculture to conduct industrial hemp research. The provision applies only states that have legalized industrial hemp cultivation. Under federal law, sites used for growing or cultivating industrial hemp in a particular state must be certified by and registered with that state’s department of agriculture. Federal law also authorizes state departments of agriculture to promulgate regulations to carry out pilot programs with industrial hemp. Pilot programs include those used to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.

The final version S.B. 2175 signed into law in Hawaii addresses the potential to use hemp as a biofuel feedstock an in phytoremediation applications. Phytoremediation is the science of using plants and trees to remove toxins from the soil. The plans draw in toxins, along with beneficial nutrients, through their roots. The toxins, such as metal, pesticides, solvents, explosives and crude oil, are concentrated in the stems, shoots and leaves of the plant. The plant can then we harvested and safety disposed of.

The Hawaii legislation specifies that hemp is a superior phytoremediator because it grows quickly and can extract toxins without the need to remove any contaminated topsoil. It is also unaffected by the toxins it accumulates, has a fast rate of absorption and can bind compound contaminants from the air and soil.

The legislation also stresses that help is an environmentally friendly and efficient feedstock for biofuel. Through the two-year research program authorized by the bill, researchers at the University of Hawaii will study the phytoremediation potential of hemp, as well as its viability as a biofuel feedstock.

“Hawaii’s environment and economy will benefit from this research,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. “Industrial hemp can be used to decontaminate soil and increase the state’s production of biodiesel, therefore reducing our dependency on imported fuel.”

With recent Farm Bill authorization of certain industrial hemp research projects, it is possible more states will follow in Hawaii’s footsteps. The nonprofit advocacy group Vote Hemp notes that 33 states and Puerto Rico have introduced pro-hemp legislation and 22 states have already passed pro-hemp legislation. At least one U.S. biofuel company has already indicated it sees value in industrial hemp for use in biomass power applications and cellulosic fuels.