As it turns out, hemp has a long standing relationship with automakers. Did you know that in 1941, Henry Ford made a car body out of organic fibers that included hemp (we sure didn’t)? Now hemp is making a comeback as the world’s first production-ready biocomposite electric car is set to take off.
The Kestrel is a three-door hatchback, and according to Nathan Armstrong, the president of Motive Industries, Kestrel’s manufacturer, is made of a “hemp composite as strong as the fiberglass in boats, yet incredibly lightweight.”
The lightweight Kestrel tips the scales at 2,500 pounds (including the battery) and its boasts a fuel-efficiency increase of 25 to 30 percent. It’s really a cool process to make the resilient, lightweight compound – hemp stalks are combed and rolled into a mat that is infused with a polymer resin, making it as flexible as the carbon fiber used in racecars.
The price is affordable too. Since it’s cheap and fast to grow, the Kestrel comes in at around $25,000. The Kestrel is set to hit the road in 2012.
(Marijuana’s fibrous cousin hemp has a long history with auto makers. in 1941 Henry Ford unveiled a car body made primarily out of organic fibers, hemp included. seventy years later, the world’s first production-ready biocomposite electric car—with hemp as the “bio”—will finally hit the streets. The Kestrel, a three-door hatchback, is made of a “hemp composite as strong as the fiberglass in boats, yet incredibly lightweight,” says Nathan Armstrong, the president of Motive industries, Kestrel’s manufacturer.
Whereas a comparably sized Ford Fusion weighs 3,720 pounds, the Kestrel will be just 2,500 pounds with the battery. this “might be the sweet spot for electric vehicles,” Armstrong says, because the car’s low tonnage means a fuel-efficiency increase of 25 to 30 percent.
To make this resilient, lightweight compound, hemp stalks are combed and rolled into a mat that is infused with a polymer resin. the hemp makes the biocomposite’s flexibility similar to the carbon fiber used in racecars.
Hemp grows fast and it’s cheap, which should keep the Kestrel’s production price around $25,000. A prototype is nearly complete, Armstrong says, and Motive plans to have thousands of its hemp-mobiles on the road by 2012.)
You wouldn’t read about it… Lotus have gone for a different type of ‘green’ by announcing an ‘Eco Elise’ made largely out of hemp… No need to check your calendar, it’s not April 1. The theory behind this radical new approach is that Lotus feels too much “green” car technology is simply concentrating on CO2 emissions at the tailpipe, where the manufacturing processes and materials in many cars are just as environmentally damaging.
To that end, the company is presenting a more holistic environmental focus. The car will be efficient as well as quick due to its light weight and advanced engine technology, but the company has gone further by using completely renewable materials like hemp body panels, eco wool and sisal carpets, cleaner manufacturing technologies, water-based paints and locally-sourced components that reduce the carbon miles inherent in the manufacturing process.
The company’s main plant has been overhauled in the name of efficiency and eco-friendliness, with vast reductions in water (11%), electricity (14%) and gas (30%) usage last year as compared to 2006 - and nearly 60% of all the waste product from Lotus’ manufacturing processes is now recycled.
Eco Elise drivers will be made well aware that their use of the pedal is a major factor in environmental impact; the dash will be focused on encouraging the driver to maximise fuel economy, with efficiency and fuel consumption meters constantly visible, and a ‘green shift’ light to show drivers where to change gears for maximum efficiency and minimum emissions.
It’s a bold and welcome strategy that goes beyond looking at mandated emissions figures to position Lotus as a market leader and example of eco-friendly business. It’s also resulted in a pretty stunning and unique car. Well done Lotus!
Press release follows.
Trackday Warrior Turns Eco Warrior
Lotus unveils the Eco Elise technology demonstrator at the British Motor Show, capitalising on great strides forward in green technology.
The Eco Elise project promotes a different perspective on “green”, one which does not revolve solely around tailpipe CO2. This holistic approach is in keeping with the progressive Lotus culture, driving Lotus to become the world’s green automotive consultancy.
Sustainable materials, hemp, eco wool and sisal have been developed for body panels and trim and, combined with hi-tech water based paint solutions, showcase new affordable green technologies. The green credentials of the technology on show in the Eco Elise have been analysed throughout the lifecycle of the car.
A green gear change display has been integrated into the dashboard to promote greener driving as well as a weight reduction programme, illustrating the holistic approach taken. The energy expended to manufacture the car has been evaluated, working to the 3R’s - Reduce, Re-use and Recycle.
Mike Kimberley, CEO of Group Lotus plc commented “This Eco Elise is a great example of the advanced and affordable green technologies Lotus is developing. We are at the cutting edge of environmental technology and are determined to push forward with our green agenda. The Lotus brand values of lightweight, fuel efficient, and high performance are more relevant today than they ever have been. We are keen to ensure that Lotus as a company and its products offer an ethical, green option that appeals to our customers”.
In keeping with the “performance through light weight” philosophy, the Eco Elise weighs 32 kg (70.5 lbs) less than the standard Elise S, which means that the efficient Elise S engine in the Eco Elise will give higher fuel economy figures and even better performance.
Dramatic improvements to the culture and operations at Lotus has rewarded the company with staggering reductions in energy (Electricity 14%, Gas 30%) and water (11%) consumed across the Hethel headquarters in 2007, compared to 2006. These advances have coincided with improvements in recycling, with 57% of waste product now being recycled.
The new green materials sourced for this car have been carefully studied to ensure that each technology used reduces the environmental impact of the vehicle. The life of the components has been analysed; during the production stage, in-use and at the end of the vehicle’s life. The technology used aims to offer lower emissions of both solvents and CO2 in the lifecycle of the vehicle, with reductions in energy consumed during manufacture.
The Eco Elise will be displayed in the Greener Driving Pavilion at the British International Motor Show from 23rd July until 3rd August. The project displays affordable green technology that is intended to be feasible and production viable in the near term future.
The Lotus Eco Elise in more detail
The project focuses on developments in:
Cleaner manufacturing processes
Renewable energy generation
Reducing carbon miles
Efficient driving techniques
The renewable materials have been incorporated into the project, with hemp, eco wool and sisal providing natural, biodegradable engineering materials. Cleaner manufacturing processes have been sought, utilising the latest water based paint technology. Using this paint system saves energy and reduces emissions of solvents from the paint shop. Solar panels have been set into the hemp hard top to help power the electrical systems and give a means of renewable energy generation.
With the use of locally farmed hemp, the carbon miles to produce the Eco Elise are reduced, in keeping with the holistic approach to this vehicle. The Eco Elise puts an emphasis on efficient driving techniques by using an “economy” gear change display to improve fuel efficiency and promote greener driving. The car has undergone a weight reduction programme to add a little extra lightness, assisting in more economical, greener driving.
Sustainable hemp technical fabrics have been used as the primary constituent in the high quality “A” class composite body panels and spoiler. The renewable hemp has exceptional material properties that make for a very strong fibre. Historically hemp has been used in the manufacture of rope, illustrating the great strength of the material.
The hemp fibres have also been used in the manufacture of the lightweight Lotus designed seats. An additional benefit of using hemp is that it is a natural resource that requires relatively low energy to manufacture and absorbs CO2 whilst growing as a plant through natural photosynthesis. This hemp material is used with a polyester resin to form a hybrid composite, however it is hoped that a fully recyclable composite resin will be viable in the short-term future.
The Eco Elise seats are upholstered in a durable yet, biodegradable woollen fabric that has been given the EU Flower certificate to exemplify its environmental credentials. This new material is ethically produced and does not use any dyes or harmful processing. In fact the colour is created from the selection of sheep breeds used to produce the wool for the yarn, which increases the natural feel of the wool and reduces the processing of the cloth.
Sisal is a renewable crop that, like hemp, is used for its strong material properties. Sisal has been used for the carpets in the Eco Elise, as it is a tough, abrasion resistant material. The use of these materials illustrates the capability at Lotus of utilising new, advanced materials and the flexibility of the manufacturing facilities.
Cleaner manufacturing processes
Whilst improving the green credentials of the Lotus production facilities, the Lotus Paint Facility, in partnership with Du Pont has developed a totally water-based paint system. This paint solution includes primer, colour coat and lacquer, and it is the first time that it has been possible to hand spray a water based “A” class production paint finish.
In using this progressive water based technology, Lotus is able to achieve impressive savings in energy consumption due to the low cure temperature this paint requires. An additional benefit of this paint system is the reduction in emissions of solvents, all of which contribute to substantial cost savings for Lotus. This is a result of the unique collaboration with Du Pont in pushing forward low-volume paint spraying technology. This technology is anticipated to be available in production cars in the near future.
Renewable energy generation
The hemp hard top on the Eco Elise has two flexible solar panels neatly embedded in the roof, contributing power to the electrical systems and saving energy that would be drained from the engine.
The solar panels have been integrated into the hard top to illustrate the feasibility of applying this technology. This application shows the installation of solar panels into a composite “A” class panel with a double curvature. Using this technology on a greater number of panels would make it possible to provide more power, especially on a larger vehicle.
Reduction in carbon miles
The hemp fibres have been farmed in East Anglia, thus reducing the carbon miles incurred in the production of this Elise. Lotus Manufacturing has component manufacturing facilities and a paint facility at its headquarters in Hethel, Norfolk, with another manufacturing site a short distance away in Norwich. The company operates a carefully managed logistics system operating between sites to improve efficiency, reduce costs and carbon miles. This is a Kanban driven barcode system that has been adopted by key suppliers. The process also uses packaging that is recycled many times over to eliminate waste.
Efficient driving techniques
Lotus cars have red shift lights to help drivers extract the maximum performance from the engine. However for the Eco Elise, Lotus designed software has been developed to assist drivers in maximising the fuel efficiency of the engine. A green gear shift display has been integrated into the instrument panel to ensure that gears are changed at the optimum point to reduce emissions and save fuel.
“Performance through light weight” is so synonymous with Lotus. The reduction in mass improves the handling and braking performance and also reduces the effort required to accelerate the car. The weight reduction philosophy has even extended to the audio system with an exceptionally lightweight stereo and speaker system from Alpine saving 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). The system uses MP3/ iPod technology in a sleek modern design.
The Eco Elise uses special lightweight wheels that reduce the unsprung mass and contribute a weight saving of approximately 15.8 kg (34.8 lbs) over the already super light Elise wheels. The weight saving programme for the Eco Elise has resulted in a total saving of around 32 kg (70.5 lbs) over the feather light Elise S, which reduces the fuel required to drive the car.
Pioneering automotive engineer Henry Ford held many patents on automotive mechanisms, but is best remembered for helping devise the factory assembly approach to production that revolutionized the auto industry by greatly reducing the time required to assemble a car.
Born in Wayne County, Michigan, Ford showed an early interest in mechanics, constructing his first steam engine at the age of 15. In 1893 he built his first internal combustion engine, a small one-cylinder gasoline model, and in 1896 he built his first automobile.
In June 1903 Ford helped establish Ford Motor Company. He served as president of the company from 1906 to 1919 and from 1943 to 1945.
In addition to earning numerous patents on auto mechanisms, Ford served as a vice president of the Society of Automotive Engineers when it was founded in 1905 to standardize U.S. automotive parts. 1
Shamefully, Ford was an anti-Semitic and Nazi sympathizer. Comparable to Thomas Jefferson having slaves; it is paradoxical that Henry Ford (considered to be one of America's greatest minds) should also be preoccupied with racism.
Fuel of the Future
When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was "the fuel of the future" in 1925, he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry. "The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust -- almost anything," he said. "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."
Ford recognized the utility of the hemp plant. He constructed a car of resin stiffened hemp fiber, and even ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated.
Ford's optimistic appraisal of cellulose and crop based ethyl alcohol fuel can be read in several ways. First, it can be seen as an oblique jab at a competitor. General Motors had come to considerable grief that summer of 1925 over another octane boosting fuel called tetra-ethyl lead, and government officials had been quietly in touch with Ford engineers about alternatives to leaded gasoline additives. Secondly, by 1925 the American farms that Ford loved were facing an economic crisis that would later intensify with the depression. Although the causes of the crisis were complex, one possible solution was seen in creating new markets for farm products. With Ford's financial and political backing, the idea of opening up industrial markets for farmers would be translated into a broad movement for scientific research in agriculture that would be labelled "Farm Chemurgy." 2
Why Henry's plans were delayed for more than a half century:
Ethanol has been known as a fuel for many decades. Indeed, when Henry Ford designed the Model T, it was his expectation that ethanol, made from renewable biological materials, would be a major automobile fuel. However, gasoline emerged as the dominant transportation fuel in the early twentieth century because of the ease of operation of gasoline engines with the materials then available for engine construction, a growing supply of cheaper petroleum from oil field discoveries, and intense lobbying by petroleum companies for the federal government to maintain steep alcohol taxes. Many bills proposing a National energy program that made use of Americas vast agricultural resources (for fuel production) were killed by smear campaigns launched by vested petroleum interests. One noteworthy claim put forth by petrol companies was that the U.S. government's plans "robbed taxpayers to make farmers rich".
Gasoline had many disadvantages as an automotive resource. The "new" fuel had a lower octane rating than ethanol, was much more toxic (particularly when blended with tetra-ethyl lead and other compounds to enhance octane), generally more dangerous, and contained threatening air pollutants. Petroleum was more likely to explode and burn accidentally, gum would form on storage surfaces and carbon deposits would form in combustion chambers of engines. Pipelines were needed for distribution from "area found" to "area needed". Petroleum was much more physically and chemically diverse than ethanol, necessitating complex refining procedures to ensure the manufacture of a consistent "gasoline" product.
However, despite these environmental flaws, fuels made from petroleum have dominated automobile transportation for the past three-quarters of a century. There are two key reasons: First, cost per kilometer of travel has been virtually the sole selection criteria. Second, the large investments made by the oil and auto industries in physical capital, human skills and technology make the entry of a new cost-competitive industry difficult.
Until very recently, environmental concerns have been largely ignored. All of that is finally changing as consumers demand fuels such as ethanol, which are much better for the environment and human health.3