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Planes, trains and automobiles made of hemp? You bet! Here’s a history of sustainable hemp for use in thriving industry in the early 20th century.

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About 100 years ago, Henry Ford designed the Model T to be made of hemp and run on hemp ethanol. He grew hemp on his estate, like the founding fathers of the US.

At the same time, Rudolf Diesel designed his engines to be powered with vegetable and hemp seed oil. He displayed one running on peanut oil at the 1900 World’s Fair, so it was not a technology to scoff at. This was the popular idea of fuel back then, until oil fields were discovered in Texas.

Hemp history

For centuries, hemp had been the raw material for many everyday products, including rope, textiles and paper. In the 1600s, it was illegal to not grow hemp, its economic value was so important.

As a crop, hemp is environmentally friendly. It takes little water and is naturally pest and disease resistant. Its deep roots break up bad soil, so it improves farmland as it grows. It can be harvested every four months for two or more crops a year. It produces four times as much fiber per acre than a tree farm, making it more productive and profitable.

Hemp fibers are strong, durable and lightweight. They have been made into fiberglass-type panels that are stronger than fiberglass, insulation, clothing, food, paint, and cosmetics. It is currently a 450 million-dollar industry in the US, but all that product is imported.

Canadian car design

It has been legal to grow hemp in Canada for decades, so it’s not surprising that great products are coming out of our neighbor to the north. The hemp car is coming back around full circle.

In 2010, Motive Industries in Calgary, Alberta rolled out its Kestrel, a compact 4-passenger electric car made of hemp. Being lightweight (2500 pounds), it uses less energy than other cars. It will go 90 kph down the road, and has a travel range of 40-160 km on a charge. Hemp is stronger than steel, and biodegradable (have a proper burial when it’s dead…), and a hemp car is cheaper to produce. I call this environmentally friendly!

Have you seen the photo of Henry Ford taking a crowbar to his hemp car? There was virtually no damage. The Kestrel passed its crash test when the panels bounced back to their original shapes.

Even though Canada has a market advantage over the US, the Kestrel sadly never made it onto the assembly line, out the door, and into Canadian driveways.

Flying in hemp

Another Canadian company, Hemp Earth, has designed the first airplane made of hemp. Appropriately, it’s called The Hemp Plane. From the website, the Hemp Plane is a ‘four-seater, two engine aircraft with a cruising speed a little over 210 mph (340 kph).’ The wings, outer shell, pillows and seats will be made of 75% hemp, and it will run on hemp bio-fuel.

Hemp Earth is in the funding stage of this project, and if you donate, they will print your name on the plane! The plan is to take off from Kitty Hawk, NC, site of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flights in 1903. Well, the US does allow hemp imports, just not the growing or manufacture of it.

Hemp Earth has other product lines as well, but why not branch out into aviation?!

I love a road trip, and I hate to fly. I doubt I’d get in a plane even made of hemp, but I’d surely drive a hemp car! I like train travel, too, and maybe hemp will reach the tracks some day.

Hemp to the rescue!

The US would be wise to legalize the growing of hemp. The economic benefits of keeping a 400+ million-dollar industry at home seem obvious. Growing and manufacturing thousands of best-selling products at home would create jobs and get some money flowing in this country.

Unsubsidized small farms that struggle could finally come out of the red with a lucrative hemp crop. Most farmers have day jobs to make ends meet, but hemp could put an end to their perennial financial crises. Hemp to the rescue for farmers, producers, consumers, and the environment!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.