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Peace, Love and Hemp-Fueled Cars

As the energy crisis goes strong and concern over pollution and global warming continues, fuel alternatives have become a hot topic. How alternative? As you read this, Amy Wells, Grayson Sigler and Kellie Ogilvie took a cross-continental road trip in a Mercedes Benz wagon running off hemp oil.

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Yep, you read it right – we’re talking about hemp. The stuff they used in the ’70s to make paper, clothes and bags. Some even used it as a recreational drug (not that any of you would be familiar with that sort of thing).

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Some of you may be thinking, “Why waste good hemp to fuel a car?”

You may be shocked when you find out where these innovative young environmentalists got their idea for the Hempcar. Believe it or not, automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford saw hemp as a very useful commodity. He once constructed a car out of resin-stiffened hemp fiber and ran the car off ethanol made from hemp. You could have called it a “joint venture.”

Why hemp? It’s the planet’s No. 1 biomass resource. Translated into English: Hemp can yield 10 tons per acre in four months. It’s also drought resistant, so it can be grown in dry Western climates. Even better, because of the plant’s natural resistance to pests, no harmful pesticides are needed.

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According to Sigler, hemp also does a lot less damage to the environment than its petroleum counterparts. “The emissions associated with the use of hemp fuels are far less toxic than for fossil fuels, and hemp helps remediate global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air while it’s growing,” she says.

Will we soon see new-car dealerships jam-packed with cars running fueled by hemp? Probably not. The production of hemp was outlawed in the United States in 1938, so it can’t be mass-produced in this country. (A collective sigh.)

“Prohibition has made hemp oil quite expensive,” says Sigler. “And the [over supply] of petroleum oil exasperates the problem.”

The main reason for the prohibition of hemp is the drug issue. But the Hempcar group doesn’t think hemp should be blamed for this.

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“Since hemp products contain naturally occurring trace amounts of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana – the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says hemp products must be outlawed because they’re confounding the federal drug testing programs,” says Sigler. “For the record, hemp products don’t cause a psychoactive ‘high.’ Similarly, eating poppy seeds doesn’t have the same effect on a person that consuming heroin does.”

Despite the cost and ban of the substance, Wells, Sigler and Ogilvie took off in the Hempcar from Washington, D.C., on July 4. Along their route, they’ll meet up with hemp activists who’ll provide them with fuel. Their three-month journey is scheduled to take them through the United States and parts of Canada. Along the way, many hemp activists are sure to wish them peace, love and happiness.

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Writer Emily Canning is an intern with BodyShop Business.

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