As we're faced with an increasingly large world population and ever-dwindling resources the race is on to produce cars that not only produce zero tailpipe emissions, but ones that are green to manufacture too.
But what is the ultimate material for cars? Steel is strong, but hardly light enough to make ultra-efficient vehicles. Many plastics are based on oil, and composite materials like carbon fibre are difficult and costly to manufacture and repair.
Enter the Kestrel. Designed and engineered by Motive Industries, a Canadian firm based in Alberta, the fully electric car features a body shell made of hemp--which may be better known as Cannabis Sativa L.
The hemp for the Kestrel's body is grown by Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) under licence from the Canadian government.
Unlike the cannabis Californians may find available at their local medical marijuana dispensaries, hemp grown by AITF ends up on a production line, where it is turned into a composite material that has the impact resistance of fiberglass.
But unlike fiberglass, the hemp bio-composite is cheaper to produce and has fewer health risks connected with its manufacture. It is also significantly lighter than glass-based composites traditionally used in racing cars.
Hemp-Bodied Electric Car
There are few details about the electric drivetrain in Motive Industries' Kestrel, but the car's designer Darren McKeage explained that the four-seat compact vehicle was designed around some core ideals
"Electric Cars need to be efficient, therefore the Kestrel design had to be simple (minimized part count) and light weight, while still being unique and eye catching."
Using composite materials to produce a car isn't a new idea. In the resource-poor East Germany of the 1950s, enterprising engineers designed a car whose body panels were made entirely from Duroplast, a composite material containing plastic, cotton and wool.
While the Berlin Wall may have fallen years ago, thousands of Duroplast-bodied Trabants have survived all over the former east block. Duroplast proved so hard-wearing that scientists later had to engineer Duroplast-eating bacteria to dispose of the cotton-based panels.
While hemp-based body panels may not form the basis for next year's electric cars, they do offer an interesting peek into the future of electric car building. More and more composite non-metallic materials will be used, to save every ounce of weight to improve range and efficiency.
The hemp-bodied Kestrel will be on display at the Vancouver EV 2010 VE Conference and Trade Show in September.
We'd like to remind visitors to not ingest the car.