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The Kestrel: All-Hemp Electric Car

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By "Radical" Russ Belville Cars are a way of life in America.  Many our cities lack serious public transit systems and our countryside lacks a real high-speed rail system.  Increasing hassles and decreasing comfort have many Americans driving instead of flying.

Of course, this car lifestyle comes with a price.  Pollution, global climate change, and military campaigns to protect oil sources are but a few of the problems with our addiction to the automobile.

We’ve made some efforts to cut back.  We have the option of lighter compact cars, some hybrid, even a few totally-electric cars.  Still, those cars require lots of steel, fiberglass, and plastics that exact an environmental toll.

If only there were a way we could make a light and strong compact car without steel, fiberglass, and plastics, and make it so light that it can easily be a powerful all-electric vehicle.  Even better, make it out of a raw material that actually works as a giant carbon sink for greenhouse gases as it grows, replenishes the soil with its deep roots, and can produce a crop on nearly any farmland…

( 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.

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.

Wow, an electric hemp car!  Just the thing Detroit needs to revive the sagging auto industry!  Imagine all the jobs, not just for people in auto factories, but for the farmers and processors of the raw hemp.  We can rescue both the farm belt and the auto industry and maintain our love for the freedom our cars provide.  It’s a win-win-win scenar…

What?  We can’t grow the hemp for the greenest car ever designed because the DEA won’t let us?  Because even though the hemp we grow to make cars can’t get you high, some people do get high off smoking a botanical relative of hemp?  Really?  Even after eight states, including my home state of Oregon, have passed laws to allow for the growing of hemp?

Well, then, just where are they growing the hemp and building the eco-car of the future?

( The Kestrel was showcased for the first time in Vancouver at last September’s Electric Vehicle (EV) Conference and Trade show. We’ve caught up with Nathan Armstrong, President of Motive Industries, who says this: “It went very well. Huge response and the internet visits went viral. We did get some flack internally for aligning with hemp, but they got over it.”

“We’re hoping it will demonstrate Canada’s abilities in technology and vehicle development. Something that hasn’t been highlighted internationally—ever. If successful it will generate a whole bunch of jobs and general industry activity,” says Armstrong.

Motive Industries Inc. is still working with the original scientists from the project in the testing procedures, so there is a good degree of follow-through and safety consistency. The timeline for delivery of the 20 Kestrels is fast-approaching—said to be Q2-3 next year. When asked which Calgary-based energy distribution company is to be the lucky inventory holder, Armstrong answered “I can’t say directly, but they’re the only deregulated utility.”

The car will be available “in Canada initially, then other countries. We’re working on distribution models with a few groups.”


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