Here’s some news for naysayers who don’t yet buy the idea of a major role of hemp in auto industry. A CNBC video on YouTube shows a fancy-looking red sports car called Renew made from 100 pounds of hemp. Bruce Dietzen, once an executive at Dell, invested US$200,000 to get this prototype made. He is also working with a Colorado-based company to develop biofuels for vehicles to run on.
It might seem that Renew sports cars are far too expensive to be commercially viable. But the standard model costs about US$40,000. That is not much higher than the average price of light vehicles in the U.S. It stood at US$38,843 in April 2019.
Dietzen explains in the video that his aim is to get people interested in cars with zero carbon footprint. That vision captures a lot about the potential role of hemp in auto industry.
Carbon Footprint of the Automotive Industry
The automobile industry as it functions today leaves an alarmingly high carbon footprint. The Brussels Times reported on September 10, 2019, that the vehicle industry’s carbon footprint is larger than that of the whole of the European Union.
Quoting a report published by the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace, this newspaper mentions that the automobile industry was responsible for 9% of the planet’s total carbon footprint in 2018. Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are the worst polluters.
Making a car has as large a carbon footprint as driving it. It is never easy to calculate the exact carbon footprint of car manufacturing since it is an extremely complex process. The critical problem is that the automobile industry’s carbon footprint spreads across several other industries.
To give a simple example, the carbon footprint of vehicle making starts from the stage of mining the ores and continues up to the transfer of the new vehicles to the showrooms from where they get sold. So, calculating the carbon footprint by an input-output calculation is rather simplistic, but that is the only measurement possible.
The input-output analysis needs dividing the total amount of emissions by the automotive industry by the total amount of money spent on buying new cars. By that formula, every GBP 1000 pounds/USD 1315 spent on a new car produces an average of 720 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
A medium-sized family car typically generates 24 tons of carbon dioxide during its lifecycle. Electric vehicles are greener, as they produce about 18 tons of carbon dioxide during their lifecycle. But the carbon footprint is still considerable.
The Environmental Cost
Just to put it on record, carbon footprint is the primary cause of what is known as the greenhouse effect. Excess carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere traps the heat from the sun just like a greenhouse. That is the main reason behind global warming and climate change.
Along with other environmental hazards like plastic pollution, the greenhouse effect is causing immeasurable damage to the natural ecological balance of planet earth. We all are at a level of danger that only a few besides environmental scientists and activists have yet learned to pay serious attention to.
The Role of Hemp in Auto Industry
The good news is that environmental consciousness is on the rise. Increasingly more people are focused on finding ways to change our consumption patterns for a greener planet. The electric car industry is an indicator of that focus in the vehicle manufacturing sector.
However, nature has given us a wonder plant that can revolutionize the automobile industry, if we give it a chance. We are talking about hemp here – the plant that Dietzen has used to produce the Renew sportscar. The possible contribution of hemp does not stop just with providing material for car parts, though.
Hemp for Automobile Body
Dietzen was not the first person to think of using hemp fibers for building his car. As he mentions in the video, he borrowed the idea from Henry Ford, the pioneer of the modern automobile industry. Way back in 1941, Henry Ford made a Model T car with hemp.
Ford’s Model T made of hemp (Source:i.ytimg)
Hemp stalks are rich in cellulose, which makes it possible to produce a variety of bioplastics from these stalks. One of the stronger varieties of hemp bioplastic is already in use for making car parts. This bioplastic is considerably stronger than steel, as both Ford and Dietzen have demonstrated.
Hemp bioplastic is also considerably lighter than steel. The use of hemp bioplastic for the production of automobile bodies can give us lightweight dent-resistant vehicles The production process would be far more carbon-neutral than the automobiles we currently make.
The Trend Is On the Rise
Ford was conscious cars made of steel running on fossil fuels are not a sustainable response to our ever-increasing transport needs. He researched and came out with a solution in the form of his Model T hemp car. But it has taken us lesser mortals almost a century to warm up to the idea.
However, the good news is that the trend of using hemp bioplastic to make car parts is on the rise. The BMW’s electric car i3 launched in 2013 was 800 pounds lighter than its competitors. This was possible through the use of lightweight hemp plastic for the car’s interiors.
The Canadian Motive Industry replaced the fiberglass in the body of the Kestrel with hemp stalks infused with polymer resin. Big companies like Audi, Chrysler/Daimler, Volkswagen are all experimenting with replacing the plastic and metal components of cars with hemp bioplastic.
The Wastage Issue
Apart from reducing the carbon footprint of the automobile industry through the increased use of hemp bioplastic, there is another anti-pollution advantage in this trend. Automobile waste management is a rising problem, with this market expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% during 2018-2022, as per a Technavio report.
The use of plastic in vehicle bodies adds to the plastic pollution problem the world is battling with. Unmanaged automobile waste causes other health and environmental hazards also. The use of hemp bioplastic can significantly reduce this problem as hemp bioplastic is fully biodegradable.
Hemp Cars Can Run on Hemp Biofuels
That is true. The hearsay is that Henry Ford meant to run his hemp car on hemp biofuel also. That is an entirely feasible alternative today. Yet another way the easy- and fast-growing hemp can radicalize the automobile industry towards a greener future.
Our dependence on fossil fuels for running our vehicles poses many environmental hazards. The carbon footprint of automobile emissions is only one of them. Fossil fuel processing depletes the ozone layer in the earth’s atmosphere. And, fossil fuels are running out anyway.
Hemp can give us two types of biofuels, the Ministry of Hemp, Government of the U.S.A., informs us. Hemp biodiesel gets extracted from hemp seeds and is then processed to transform it into a fuel for automobiles.
The whole hemp plant can be processed to produce ethanol, applied as an additive to gasoline. Ethanol is traditionally produced from corn and wheat crops. The advantages of using hemp instead are many. Firstly, that leaves the food crops alone for consumption as staples. Also, growing hemp is far easier than either corn or wheat.
If the counter-argument is that increased hemp production will affect our production of food crops, the refutation is simple. Hemp can be grown on land not suitable for other crops.
As Dietzen mentions in his interview, the mistaken identification of hemp as a drug is a roadblock in the future of the role of hemp in the auto industry. The faster people get rid of this erroneous concept, the better for much greener automobile industry.