By the end of the year, Washington State may have a regulated cannabis industry generating hundreds of thousands of pounds of pot annually. This leads to a natural dilemma: what to do with the even larger amount of garbage—stems, leaves, root balls, etc.—the industry generates?
One local company hopes to turn much of the state's legal pot leftovers into jet fuel. "We think the whole cannabis industrial waste stream is going to be massive," says Jerauld Bessette from Ballard Biofuel, which distributes plant-based lubricants for industrial machines. The company hopes to position itself as the state's ganja garbageman—just like biofuel companies scrap for used vegetable oil, it hopes to convince legal pot growers to turn over their waste biomass to create biosynthetic paraffinic kerosene, or bio-SPK, which can fuel jet engines.
Biofuel is a newcomer to the aviation market, first approved for use in commercial and military jets in 2011 by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Since then, dozens of commercial and demonstration flights have used biofuel mixes. Airlines hope to reduce their carbon emissions by switching to plant-based fuel, which, unlike fossil fuel, sucks up carbon during its growth cycle.
Ballard Biofuel hopes to capitalize on the airline industry's desire to reduce its carbon footprint (and earn carbon-related tax credits). To that end, the company is creating the Washington Cannabis Producers' Co-op, which hopes to secure a pot-processing license later this year. "We expect to have a one-ton demonstration processing plant by August," says Bessette.
The amount of fuel we can produce with our dope dregs is a drop in the jet-fuel bucket, Bessette admits, saying that the larger goal is to produce fuel from industrial hemp, which was also legalized by Initiative 502. He points to a bill in the state legislature, HB 1888, which would license and promote the newly legal hemp industry in Washington State. Processing weed waste "would be a nice little public-safety thing," he says, "but to really get things going, you want 20-foot cannabis sativa plants."