Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2007
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


CAR buyers who suspect they have parted with money for old rope may
soon be right. Ministers are to spend more than UKP500,000 in an attempt
to develop the world's first recyclable vehicle made from hemp.

A deal between Defra, the environment department, Ford, the car
manufacturer, and Hemcore, which grows plants closely related to the
ones that produce cannabis, could see hemp being used as the basis for
a wide range of components.

The fibrous qualities of their stalks means they can be used to make
clothes, paper and ropes.

Defra's funding is being used to create new materials based on fibres
from hemp and other plants such as flax and willow, to 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.

"We hope this could become a sustainable way of replacing metals,
glass fibre and plastic in making new cars," said Robert West of
Qinetiq, the technology development firm that is overseeing the project.

The most likely first use for hemp-based components is as a
replacement for internal components such as mouldings and plastics.
West's team has already designed a pedal assembly that could replace
the traditional metal accelerator, brake and clutch pedals. As the
technology advances it could also be used to replace body panels and
larger components.

"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."

Growing hemp is strictly controlled because of the association with
drug use. However, Hemcore now has licences for 3,000 hectares of
industrial hemp, a plant with minimal drug content, from which the
fibres will be extracted. It processes the plants at its factory in

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.

More recently, Thomas Jeffer-son drafted the United States declaration
of independence on hemp paper. Britain used hemp extensively in the
second world war, making uniforms, canvas and rope.

Even Ford's involvement in building a "cannabis car" has strong
precedents. 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.

The best known car to be based on recycled materials was the Trabant,
the car that was a mainstay of East German motoring for more than 30
years and was later celebrated by the rock band U2 in their Zoo TV

The Trabant was widely condemned for its two-stroke engine, which
produced a foul-smelling cocktail of exhaust fumes, equal to nine
times the carbon dioxide emissions of a Volkswagen Golf.

But few critics realised the "Duroplast" plastic used in its roof,
boot lid, bonnet and doors was made of recycled material strengthened
with waste cotton. Some experts now view the Trabant factory as the
world's first green car production line.

The Labour government has a poor record on sustainable transport. It
is now overseeing a UKP13 billion road expansion programme that includes
the widening of the M25, which will turn most of London's orbital
motor-way into an eight-lane highway.

Overall, road transport currently generates 142m tonnes of CO2 a year
- - about 25% of Britain's total - and emissions are still growing.

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."
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