Growing bio energy crops moved forward last week when €800,000 Euro was allocated to research the development of the world’s first recyclable vehicle made from hemp. A deal between Defra, the environment department, Ford, the car manufacturer, and Hemcore, could see hemp being used as the basis for a wide range of components. The fibrous qualities of their stalks means they can not only be used to make clothes, paper and ropes but car parts too. Other plants such as flax and willow could also be used which could replace metals and oil-based plastics. The fibres are blended with polypropylene and the resulting mixture can then be moulded into whatever shape is required. The hope is to make car manufacture more sustainable. Such materials would be easy to recycle for use in successive generations of vehicles.
“Natural fibres offer many technical and environmental attractions,” said a Defra spokesman. “They have high strength and stiffness, low raw material and energy costs and the potential for very low environmental impact.”
Hemcore now has licences for 3,000 hectares of industrial hemp, a plant with minimal drug content, from which the fibres will be extracted. Early estimates suggest that hemp-based materials could replace up to 100kg of other plastics, metals and resins within the average car. Since hemp produces about two tonnes of fibre per hectare, each hectare could grow enough for 20 cars. Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age, with fibres found in human settlements over 10,000 years old, where they were used for clothes, shoes, ropes and an early form of paper.
Henry Ford, the company’s founder, grew marijuana as part of his experiments with biofuels in the 1930s, but also used the fibres in body panels and other components as an alternative to metal.
Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said schemes such as the hemp trial could make a small contribution to sustainability but failed to address the real issue.
“This is the same old problem that so many politicians have of thinking climate change can be solved simply by new technologies,” he said. “The real problem is that there are too many cars on the road burning too much fuel. It doesn’t make much difference just making a few components more sustainable. The only real benefit is that if it crashes you might breathe in the smoke to help you relax.”