Hemp Hits the Highway
Here at the CBD Beverage Blog, we’ve discussed a variety of drink-related subjects - including cocktail recipes, the history of carbonation, and the origins of beloved soda flavors. Today, we’ll go beyond the beverage world to the largest scale product on the horizon of modern hemp development.
Once Upon a Time…
In 1908, Henry Ford had a bold new vision: affordable, personal automobiles made largely from hemp, which were able to run on hemp fuel. Many of us don't realize that he built just that. In fact, his iconic Model-T Ford was designed with the ability to run on hemp fuel alone. While the Model-T wasn't comprised of exclusively hemp, the shiny new model was made largely from hemp-based products. However, the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act made the mass production of hemp products entirely impractical. Ford and fellow pioneers of the American auto industry subsequently eliminated hemp from the Model T's prototype, instead relying on alternatives like steel and tin.
Ford manufactured more than two million Model-Ts and had reduced their costs to under $300 per car by 1927. The cost of car ownership had exceeded the financial limits of most middle class American families at the turn of the twentieth century. However, the widespread availability and affordability of personal autombiles contributed to their skyrocking popularity among the American public. In 1908 - the year prior to the Model T's introduction - there were reportedly just 1.65 cars per 1,000 U.S. residents. Less than twenty years after the Model T debuted, the ratio of automobiles to American residents had grown more than 100 times larger.
While the skyrocketing rates of car ownership in modern-day American households had many advantages, the change also inflicted a litany of waste. Environmentalists nationwide (and across the globe) have advocated for eco-friendly alternatives to wasteful manufacturing practices which have irreversably harmed our ecosystem over the past century. British and Australian researchers are hard at work designing exciting innovations in the hemp industry. In fact, hemp research is a driving sector in sustainable development today. And we mean that literally. Hemp has been re-examined in recent years as a potential boon to the auto industry in numerous ways, from hemp biofuel and ethanol, hemp-based auto parts, and even a sportscar made from hemp for the first time in history.
Hemp Hits the Highway
The sportscar's innovative creator is Florida's Bruce Michael Dietzen, a former executive of Dell computers. The longtime auto aficionado moved to Miami in 1980 with a collection of sportscars in tow. In the years that followed, he set his mind to a car design which maximized ecofriendly materials, and ultimately decided that hemp would be the perfect choice. The sleek red car was based around the chassis of an old Mazda, and required roughly 100 pounds of hemp for its construction. In a 2016 interview to Jay Leno, Dietzen explained that the tightly woven hemp made the sportscar’s exterior ten times stronger than steel. You read that right. It’s also carbon neutral; its creation won’t harm the environment whatsoever with harmful gasses. Current estimates suggest that our planet is home to a billion cars, few of which could rival the ecofriendly perks of his visionary prototype.
Dietzen explains that while the car’s cannabis-derivative composition attracts public interest, the stigma that lingers around all types of cannabinoids have stalled the car’s initial acceptance. Dietzen reflects “the marijuana connection garners the interest, but then people don’t take you seriously.” Helping to differentiating hemp products from their psychoactive relatives is relatedly a goal for the sustainability industry at large.
While his car made history, the cost to do so was steep. The prototype cost Dietzen roughly $200,000 to develop. This staggering sum was heightened by unusual modes of production, and exotic materials which had to be imported from overseas. In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, he explained that he lives in Florida, where “hemp is still illegal to grow…I had to import the woven material all the way from China because we still don’t have the facilities that can make hemp fabrics.” Dietzen emphasized his sincere hope that hemp could be decriminalized on a broader scale. “Many states are starting to make it legal. It’s a really great sign as we’re getting back to the point where we’re starting to make products out of industrial hemp just as Henry Ford suggested we should do.”
A Fork in the Road
The car's journey to its finalized form has admittedly had a few roadblocks - which can be blamed in part on hemp’s transitioning legal status at that time. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill could ramp up the auto industry’s willingness and fiscal ability to finally embrace Dietzen’s line of thinking – and produce a line of cars to follow suit. Regardless, the long overdue legality of hemp’s American production may increase the feasibility – and significantly reduce the cost – of vehicles made with hemp.
Since the completion and unveiling of his sportscar, Dietzen’s switched gears to the development of hemp-based fuel. To do so, he’s partnered with the Colorado-based company Cool Tech, aiding in his long-term dream of helping the environment through next-generation automobiles.
Here's to Hemp!
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