24 August 2001

Transamerica trip sets a high target for hemp-powered car

TECHNICALLY possible, but unlikely in this country for some while.

That is the reaction of a UK fibre hemp enthusiast to news that a car running on biodiesel derived from the crop is on a 10,000-mile trip round the US to promote the idea.

Varieties of hemp for producing oil here would have to be much earlier maturing than at present, says Hemcores Ian Low. They would also need to be higher yielding to compete with the output of oilseed rape.

"With more breeding work it could be a good oil-producing crop."

The car, a modified Mercedes, was due to reach the Seattle Hemp Fest last weekend where 200,000 people, many of them dedicated to the legalisation of marijuana produced from hemp, were expected.

"If hemp were legal to grow in the US, technologies such as pyrolysis would make hemp fuels economically competitive with petrol," Grayson Sigler one of the drivers is reported as saying.

"Hemp has been shown to be our number one renewable resource. It out-produces virtually every other biomass crop that can be widely grown."

But even he admits Americans are unlikely to be filling their tanks with hemp fuel within the next decade. "Prohibition has made hemp oil quite expensive."

Biodiesel from hemp is physically much the same as that from oilseed rape, says Don Wirtshafter of the Ohio Hempery, which supplied the cars Canadian produced oil. "Once the handcuffs are taken off our industry we will be able to compete gallon for gallon and acre for acre."

Hemp grown in Canada, where the crop is legal, is already said to have spawned a $100m a year US trade in manufactured goods such as paper, clothes, bags and shoes.

Several serious players already supply hemp fibre to the Detroit motor industry, says Mr Low. "The problem is that hemp is a schizophrenic crop. It is always being hijacked by the legalise marijuana campaign." &#42