How Hemp Could Lead Us to a Greener Energy Future

Hemp is used in many countries as a cost-effective and greener building material, but it does produce some waste. Now, though, researchers believe that they could repurpose those waste fibers into next-generation energy storage devices.

The research, presented by Dr. David Mitlin at the 248th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and published this month in the journal ACS Nano, details how the researchers took those hemp fibers and turned them into what are known as supercapacitors. Such supercapacitors carry a distinct advantage over conventional batteries and larger energy storage devices because they can be charged and discharged within a matter of seconds, which is handy for a number of technologies, including for electric cars that, rather than being drip-fed energy from regular batteries, require sharp bursts of power for things like regenerative braking.

However, super-capacitor technologies are currently restricted by issues like the cost of materials and the size limitations. In addition to this, they usually can’t store nearly as much energy as today’s conventional battery technology.

To get around this problem, scientists have been trying to create better electrodes that would allow larger energy density rates. At the moment, the best material for this process is the wonder-material graphene, which has become the star of the manufacturing and scientific world for its hundreds of uses. For the purpose of creating a supercapacitor though, graphene is incredibly costly to use.

That’s where hemp might offer a significant advantage.

“People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?” Dr Mitlin told the BBC. “We’re making graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price — and we’re doing it with waste.”

The process for making these graphene-like carbon fibers is actually relatively simple. From any cultivated crop of non-THC hemp (meaning that it’s perfectly legal and you can’t get high from the plant), there is inevitably a certain amount of bio-waste. This includes the hemp’s so-called inner bark or bast, and that usually ends up in landfills. Scientists have long been interested in bast fiber because of its engineering possibilities, but they’ve struggled to find the best way to process the material.

Mitlin and team, however, believe they’ve discovered what they call the “secret sauce.” They found that applying heat of over 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a 24 hour period, and then blasting the material with intense bursts of heat, caused the bast fiber to peel into what are known as nanosheets. The team then built their supercapacitors using the sheets as electrodes alongside an ionic liquid as the electrolyte. These supercapacitors yield 12 Watt-hours per kilogram, which is at least double most of the commercial counterparts and rivals even graphene, and costs as little as $500 a ton.

The researchers have managed to produce a proof-of-principle model which was successful, and so are moving on to a limited manufacturing stage that, they believe, will prove the viability of this technology. They hope that this research could eventually lead to a more environmentally friendly method of creating supercapacitors that, in turn, could spare us energy and waste products in other manufacturing endeavors.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Christine Stewart

I don't like hemp seed milk that much, but i always buy granola that has the hemp in it!

C Braund
C B4 years ago

Every market Cannabis can be applied, it is second to none on so many levels to it's next natural or synthetic competitor as far as materials is concerned.

However, the specific comment about the 'non-THC' stains of this plant ("From any cultivated crop of non-THC hemp (meaning that it’s perfectly legal and you can’t get high from the plant), there is inevitably a certain amount of bio-waste."), I'm quite sure this is a moot point in the grand scheme of things, specially the good news that any plant materials used for medicinal purposes such as derivative extractions, has PLENTY of 'left over' plant materials to also use for this purpose.

Stay on track about Cannabis & STOP trying to diversify a simple plant. It is INDEED our FREE bonus ticket out of this health & environmental mess we've been pigeon-holed into since Cannabis was illicitly removed from the Global collective 80-100 years ago. Free the damn plant outright & wholly overnight.. as in tonight!

Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson4 years ago

Hemp Our Heritage....Hemp Our Future....Misguided governmental policies and personal agendas deny the Human race a miracle plant....Check out "Smoke Signals'' by Martin Lee...The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer...

Adena Z.
Adena Z4 years ago

Erin H.
Erin H4 years ago

Interesting article, thank you!

Barry T.
Barry AWAY T4 years ago

Crying out loud, some of us have been talking about the incredible possibilities of hemp forever. The fact is that while the way out of our malaise is complicated and perhaps even unlikely, if it happens - and perhaps at least as much so if it doesn't happen - hemp will almost certainly be part of the equation.

Yes, it is that awesome.

Leia P.
Leia P.4 years ago


Tonya Freeman
Tonya Freeman4 years ago

This is great news! After watching the True History of Marijuana and hearing that over 5000 products can be produced from cannabis, I had to shake my head at the greed of three men who were out to make sure that cannabis became illegal to grow.

Henry Ford had wonderful ideas for using this so-called "miracle plant." I give thanks for those who are doing work in this field.

I smiled when I heard that the first bible was printed on hemp/cannabis paper.

Sandra Penna
Sandra Penna4 years ago

very interesting, thank you.