Surf 'N Hemp: Feel the Power

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Dec 30, 2001.

  1. By Steve Kettmann
    Source: Wired Magazine

    Waves and cannabis have a long and colorful association, captured memorably on screen by Sean Penn's stoner-surfer Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
    Now a Republican representing Hawaii in the House of Representatives wants to turn waves and hemp into keywords for responsible cultivation of renewable energy sources. She's already off to a good start. Cynthia Thielen was co-sponsor of a House resolution calling for research into technology that can convert wave action into electricity.

    She says the first use of this technology in the United States will be at a Marine base in Thielen's home district on the windward side of Oahu, the most populous island in the Hawaiian chain.

    Different technologies are being developed to tap the motion of the oceans. One approach is to convert wave action into electricity through a concrete tube in which an oscillating column of water first compresses and then decompresses air trapped in the column. The motion of the air in turn drives turbines, which generate electricity.

    Another approach is to rely on large buoys, which rise and fall with the action of the waves, propelling built-in pistons that drive generators on the ocean floor to generate electricity.

    "We are ideally located for wave surges," Thielen explained in a phone interview. "Ultimately, this technology could power 80 to 90 percent of the island. But that's a long way off. We have a monopoly utility, Hawaiian Electric, and they don't take well to any other energy source. They only want to use fossil fuel. That's why the military base works, because they can do what makes sense."

    Thielen has worked hard to establish herself in her district as a champion of alternative energy, and that applies also to her advocacy of industrial-hemp cultivation. The local papers dutifully captured her planting hemp seeds last December in a program made possible by another House bill she sponsored.

    "That was the first time hemp seed had been legally planted," she said.

    Some might write off talk of hemp's virtues as a little too Woody Harrelson for their tastes. But when a House Republican stakes so much of her credibility on the issue, it's bound to get the attention even of skeptics.

    "You have a crop that replaces fiberglass and so many other products that require petroleum fuels to produce," Thielen said. "Industrial hemp is an ideal replacement crop. It can produce easily 80 percent of the fiberglass products on the market, and it is fire retardant, it is lighter weight and it is stronger, and it never goes into a landfill.

    "This is industrial hemp, which is a different variety than your pot stuff. Industrial hemp we're looking at in Hawaii as a replacement for sugar. The sugar plantations have gone belly up, the agricultural land is vacant and we're looking at industrial hemp for a variety reasons. It can be processed locally. It can be turned into building materials."

    Use of industrial hemp, rather than petroleum-fuel products, also has the benefit of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Thielen says she supports the Kyoto Protocol on reducing such emissions, which President Bush has famously opposed -- but which most of the rest of the world, led by Europe, seems ready to ratify.

    "What I've been doing with wave energy and industrial hemp ties right in with (Kyoto)," Thielen said.

    Europe, where environmental concerns have long been more of a government priority, has also emerged as a leader in wave technology.

    The Oahu facility will not be the first of its kind in the world. That distinction belongs to a power station that has been in operation since late last year on the island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland, across the North Channel from Northern Ireland.

    The Scottish project, funded in part by the European Union, was a collaboration of Queen's University Belfast and WAVEGEN. The Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer (LIMPET) produces 500 kilowatts of energy, enough for 400 homes.

    Like many alternative energy sources, wave technology has its detractors. Development costs are high, and no one wants a white elephant on their hands.

    Many have tried and failed to harness the ultimate power source, all the way back to the wave motor a lumberman and developer named F.A. Hihn tried to install on the Capitola, California, pier in the 1890s, hoping to power an electric trolley. The effort was unsuccessful.

    But the search for alternate energy sources has gained added impetus with the war on terrorism potentially spreading to oil-producing heavyweights like Iraq, and wave energy has suddenly moved from near-obscurity to interesting-new-idea status.

    Just last week, the U.S. Senate introduced an energy bill including provisions for developing ocean energy, along with more established renewable-energy sources. Whether the provision makes the cut when the final form of the bill is hammered out and passed, it's clear ocean energy has shown up on the official Washington radar.

    "It's really exciting," said Debbie Boger, a Washington lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "Usually when the environmental community talks about renewable, they talk about solar and wind and maybe biomass and geothermal. This ocean energy is interesting."

    But even Boger cautioned about assuming too much about ocean energy until more is known about how feasibly it can be tapped.

    "I certainly haven't heard that much about it technically," she said. "At first glance it's interesting. There could be environmental ramifications that we haven't studied yet. I think we should take this as an interesting technology, but one that needs to be studied."

    Source: Wired Magazine (CA)
    Author: Steve Kettmann
    Published: December 28, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Wired Digital Inc.

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