Recently on an episode of "Jay Leno's Garage," Jay Leno featured a car that was constructed out of cannabis. Made entirely out of woven hemp fibers and its environmentally friendly engine, this unique and one of a kind 2017 Renew, is a prototype owned by Bruce Dietzen, the former Dell executive, who strongly stands behind his CNBC Interview claim that his hemp car is ten times dent resistant stronger than steel.
If you’ve ever seen The Union – still available on various streaming services – you may have heard Joe Rogan, of UFC and Fear Factor fame, talking about how it was all the auto industry, or rather oil and gas, that made marijuana illegal.
He says it was all part of a giant conspiracy – won through endless lobbying and pushing of false claims – because, well, hemp can apparently power your standard internal combustion engine.
Now, I don’t know about all that – I tend to fall into the Mexican Revolution category – but it looks like hemp is at least making a comeback in cars. Not as a fuel, however, but rather as one of the best structural components ever.
Why use hemp to make automobiles, though? I mean we’ve all seen what a weed van can do, thanks to Cheech & Chong. Turns out, there are a number of reasons. And they don’t involve accidentally lighting your vehicle up for some on-the-go recreation.
Is it because hemp is lighter than steel or fiberglass, making a car more efficient? Is it because hemp resists dents and isn’t nearly as brittle as carbon fiber? Is it because hemp is biodegradable? Yes, yes, and yes again. These are all great reasons for the use of hemp when manufacturing a car, but what’s really pushing the trend?
One of the biggest benefits of hemp, unlike other traditional building materials, is that it is carbon negative. Meaning that it actually reduces excess carbon in the ecosystem, rather than adding to it.
Hemp is a plant, and like all plants, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through its natural growth and respiration processes – only much, much faster than most other plants. Trees, for instance, take 20 years to grow, while hemp, by contrast, matures in roughly 3 to 4 months – and, depending on climate, can be replanted several times a year (all with little to no pesticides or fertilizers).
If you've ever wondered why hemp was used for ropes, sails, clothing and even paper for thousands and thousands of years, it's because hemp's fibers are incredibly strong – densely packed with the carbon that the plant extracts from the air. When hemp is used to manufacture a durable good like a car, all that CO2 removed from the atmosphere is repurposed and put to good use.
This process is called carbon sequestering – and its benefit to our society is unfathomable. By sequestering, or removing, part of our carbon footprint, we’re instantly making an impact on global climate change.
Work is ongoing in Australia and Europe to create plant-based materials to replace parts that today use plastic and metal. With a reduction in weight of 30% for such parts, there’s an instant boost in fuel economy, along with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel – and that’s on top of the already proven carbon impact.
When the material reaches the end of its useful life, just bury it and let it biodegrade – something you definitely can’t do with traditional petroleum-based plastics.
So why has it taken so long for hemp to make a comeback in cars? Because it's been illegal for the last 80 years. Thanks to the recent passing of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, though, the pedal is back down to the metal.
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