An Electric Car Made From Hemp?

Calgary company with help from local firms develops electric vehicle with body parts made from hemp

Don’t call it the cannabis car, but a Calgary transportation company and its partners including some Toronto firms have developed an electric vehicle with hemp body parts.

Calgary-based Motive Industries says it will unveil the design of the Kestrel compact car and its hemp composite components at an electric vehicle show in Vancouver next month.

The design and engineering of the four-seat car is part of Project Eve, a major Canadian initiative that is promoting the production of electric vehicles and parts.

A consortium of more than a dozen companies, including Toronto Electric and Archronix Corp.  of Markham, and some technical schools plan to use impact-resistant, bio-composite material made from industrial hemp, other fibres and resins for outside body panels and some interior components.

Hemp does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ), the active ingredient in marijuana and hashish.

“We have had a lot of public interest in what’s we’re doing but there have been some sensational headlines,” Motive president Nathan Armstrong said Friday about the mistaken link to cannabis and marijuana.

The project is one of many consortiums that have surfaced to pursue the emerging world of electrical and hybrid vehicles that would gradually replace the century-old internal combustion engine.

Project officials say the combination of hemp, other fibres and resins can be stronger, lighter, less expensive and easier to manufacture than fiberglass, a major material in autos.

Armstrong also noted that energy costs are much lower for manufacturing hemp and it produces no toxins that undermine the health of workers.

Some farmers in Alberta and Ontario already grow hemp for industrial uses that could be used for the car.  A government-funded study is determining whether more hemp production is commercially viable in view of its potential uses.

“The farmers are going to be helping us and we are going to be flying,” said Project Eve leader Steve Dallas about prospects for hemp in cars.

Dallas, president of Toronto Electric, said the consortium will unveil five electric prototypes for production within the next few years.  Member companies have already selected a Winnipeg manufacturer to build a few dozen vehicles for large corporate fleets, he added

In addition to releasing a design of the Kestrel at the EV 2010 VE Conference and Trade Show in Vancouver, the consortium will unveil Dallas’ A2B two-seat electrical car which he has developed in recent years and drives around Toronto.  It can reach speeds of up to 115 km per hour, he said.

The consortium will complete and roll out the first Kestrel hemp prototype by the end of the year, according to Armstrong.  While project officials are using hemp extensively, the main frame will be made of a aluminum.

The idea of using hemp as a material in vehicles dates back to 1941 when auto pioneer Henry Ford produced a car using hemp, wheat straw and resins to make body parts such as trunk lids that could withstand eight times the force of steel before denting.  However, the company never used hemp extensively.

Hemp also has numerous industrial uses ranging from the production of chemicals, to paints, the backing on carpets and even as an alternative fuel for cars.

Project officials also say Canada has an advantage in exploiting the use of hemp because of productions restrictions south of the border.

The U.S.  Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 which effectively ended hemp production.  Washington’s Drug Enforcement Administration opposes any changes for domestic cultivation, hemp supporters say.

Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Toronto Star
Author: Tony Van Alphen

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