A Growing Field: Hemp carbon credits

Growing to a height of 4 metres in just 100 days makes hemp one of the fastest natural methods of converting CO2 into a renewable energy source. One hectare absorbs 22 tonnes of CO2 per 100 day growing cycle. 

Over the last year there has been a rise in schemes offering hemp farmers additional income through issuing carbon credits. The market for these allows businesses to offset their carbon emissions by investing in green projects such as reforestation. 

UK companies are given a maximum quota of emissions they can emit before having to pay penalties. Companies under their quota can sell unused emissions to those over-emitting, and vice versa. 

hemp growing in the UK


Where does Hemp come in?

The highest value credits derive from projects which remove the most CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in a semi-permanent state.

Once the useful parts of the hemp plant have been used (eg the outer layer of the stalk for shirts, or buds/leaves for ingredients in hand creams) the leftovers can be turned into biochar via a process called pyrolysis (heating an organic material without oxygen).

This means the biochar can’t breakdown and release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere for at least 1,000 years. During that time it increases soil fertility, raises agricultural productivity, and sequesters the carbon. Farmers in the US have seen credits sell for over $500 per tonne of CO2 sequestered - the UK market is more nascent but similar figures can be expected.


hemp biochar

The largest hurdle the hemp industry faces is the lack of a standardised, robust mechanism for measuring the value of carbon credits. However, hopes are up thanks to a recently launched £6m research project focusing on the carbon sequestration properties of 5 rotational crops including hemp. DEFRA has allotted the money to help optimise the production and use of renewables and to develop their related offsetting platforms. It is called The Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping.

Farmers or anyone seeking to learn more should reach out to the British Hemp Alliance, who provide resources to support the effective uptake and utilisation of hemp. https://britishhempalliance.co.uk/

hemp carbon capture

An Unusual Problem: Financial Bureaucracy

Interestingly, (and in stark contrast to the work of DEFRA) the Proceeds of Crime act (POCA) is one of the larger barriers to the development of the UK hemp industry. The government haven’t legislated a THC (the psychoactive element of hemp) percentage that is permissible for hemp to grow under without license and therefore prohibits payments linked to these projects. Currently, banks are not allowed to accept money or transfers linked to unlicensed projects - yet getting a license is beyond difficult.

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