Alan Crosky, of the University of New South Wales’ Material Science and Engineering School, said that hemp had beaten coconut palms and banana trees as the most viable environmentally-friendly material in preliminary studies from which to construct the main body of a car. Crosky said that the plant acts like a natural version of fibreglass, and so would be an ideal material. The researcher said that he has begun investigations into ensuring that hemp does not become brittle and could protect the passengers of a vehicle during an accident.

Crosky said that easily-recyclable materials would soon become essential in the manufacture of products such as cars. “Disposal of old cars is a growing problem. It is only a matter of time before the expense of disposal becomes the owner’s responsibility and the consumer is forced to pay the full life-cycle costs of their car,” he said. In Japan, a law was recently introduced obliging consumers to pay for the recycling of several unwieldy items, although vehicles are not among them (see related story).

“It’s renewable, you don’t have to put as much energy into making it, and best of all, burning it doesn’t get off anymore carbon dioxide than it absorbed during growing, what we call CO2 neutral,” Crosky said, adding that although research was at the preliminary stage, he believed the hemp car will be a reality within a decade. He added that the hemp used only contained minute amounts of the narcotic tetrahydrocannabinol.

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