When you think about automobiles and the parts used to make them, you probably think about steel, aluminum, and fiberglass parts.
What you may not know is that Henry Ford, designer of the Model T that revolutionized the automobile world, had bigger plans.
In Popular Mechanics, Vol. 76, No. 6 December 1941, Henry Ford revealed that despite the ban on hemp put into effect in 1937, he kept growing it.
His idea was to use industrial cannabis Sativa to make hemp auto parts by using it to make plastics that did not require petroleum-based ingredients.
He also wanted to continue finding more efficient ways to use this amazing plant for fuel, ending the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
To see the film of Henry Ford hitting its trunk lid of his 1941, Ford made with this incredibly innovative plastic, watch this video. Sadly, his innovation never caught on (probably due to the ban on growing hemp).
Hemp in the Modern Automotive World
Industrial hemp has finally been legalized here in America, thanks to the Farm Bill Act of 2018. However, as a country, we are already far behind on converting the cannabis Sativa plant into hemp auto parts.
Other countries, including those in Canada and Europe, have been experimenting with car parts made using hemp-based plastic for well over a decade.
Research has shown that any car part that can be made from plastic can be made from hemp fiber-based plastic. Something Henry Ford knew back in the late 1930s.
In 2010 Canadian Engineering firm Motive Industries Inc. showcased the Kestrel. Kestrel automobiles were powered by electric motors running off lithium-ion batteries, eliminating any need for an internal combustion engine.
The first electric cars didn’t go into production until Toyota released the Prius Hybrid hit the showrooms in 2012.
The Kestrel built-in 2010 featured body parts made from a hemp composite that is extremely lightweight and durable.
When finished, the GVW (gross vehicle weight) of the Kestrel was a mere 1,874lb (850kg), including the bank of batteries that powered it.
While the car was only a prototype, it had a range of 99 miles (160km) and could reach speeds of up to 84mph (135 kph). Motive Industries Inc. was not interested in becoming an automaker.
Instead, their goal was more expansive. They intended to push the world of automobile design and manufacture in the direction of new leading-edge technologies and innovations.
Using hemp auto parts would not only revolutionize car design but would help bolster the Canadian economy and create thousands of jobs.
Meanwhile in Europe
Over in Europe, a University of Warwick researcher published a paper proving that hemp composites could be used to replace fiberglass body panels.
In testing that placed unwoven hemp against woven jute and woven flax, the hemp-based product offers the highest levels of specific energy absorption (SEA).
This didn’t come as much of a surprise to European automakers as they had already been using hemp auto parts for years. The first road-worthy car to feature hemp body panels and interior fabrics were the Lotus Eco Elise.
Lotus was not the only company looking at using hemp auto parts. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz continue to use a large percentage of hemp panels and other components in their high-end vehicles.
Among these are the BMW i3, an all-electric car designed for city driving, and the i8, which is a hybrid.
Individual Hemp Auto Parts
In Canada, hemp-based auto technology continues to advance and innovate. Bio-Composites Inc., located in Alberta, leads the way in this upcoming field.
The company uses a mixture of hemp fibers and wood chips that would typically be considered waste and turns it into a variety of parts. These include:
- Mats are used to create body panels.
- Kick pads
- Cup holders
- Dashboard panels
- Interior panels and upholstery
Their goal is simple, use eco-friendly hemp and other materials to replace petroleum-based plastic and fiberglass.
Both of which are not environmentally sound. Plastic uses an incredible amount of oil during the manufacturing process and fiberglass in all its forms.
Both products involve the use of chemicals during the manufacturing process that is extremely toxic, and neither of them is bio-degradable.
Parts made with these materials will still be intact sitting in landfills and junkyards for decades, if not centuries.
Hemp In America
Here in the U.S., auto parts manufacturer Flex Form Technologies has begun using natural fibers. They use hemp to create composite matting that is fully recyclable.
The finished product can be used to craft hemp auto parts and body panels. Moreover, their hemp-based parts can be found in the heavy trucking, aviation, office interior, housing, and packaging industries.
Imagine cars made from sustainable components that can be easily recycled! While on the subject of hemp auto parts, let’s turn back the hands of time to the 1930s when Henry Ford first began to look at using industrial hemp as a fuel source for his automobiles.
Like many great ideas, this one has pushed aside as the market focused on the use of fossil fuels. With concerns over the cost and availability, significant research into biofuels is being conducted.
Much of it is focused on hemp as these plants reach maturity and are ready to harvest in four months. While most areas will only see one harvest per year, there are parts of the world, two harvests are possible.
There is a renewed focus on manufacturing hemp auto parts in Europe, Canada, and in the U.S. You could soon be seeing more cars sporting these parts in automobile dealers’ showrooms shortly.
As technology continues to advance, in the future, the car you drive might have parts made from hemp.
It may even be powered by a bio-fuel engine designed to run on hemp fuel. All this from a sustainable source. Henry Ford would be proud of us turning his dreams into reality.