A car made of hemp may sound like someone’s wacky fantasy, but it’s as real as General Motors’ bankruptcy.
Motive Industries in Calgary is building a vehicle using panels and other parts made of a hemp fibre material that’s lighter and cheaper than glass fibre.
It’s being put together to try to win the$10 millionXPrizecompetition for the car that gets 100 miles to the gallon and beats other green cars in a race.
And Motive will benefit from the $15 million Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre announced Thursday, says John Wolodko, polymers group leader at Alberta Research Council.
The structural components of the car, which will start trials in mid June, will still be made of more traditional materials, said Wolodko, whose team is helping with the Motive project.
Eventually more environmentally friendly fibres made of hemp and flax will replace glass fibre in cars and other manufacturing processes, he said.
“Some European car manufacturers are already using bio-materials.”
The new centre, to be set up at ARC’s agricultural research facility in Vegreville and at the University of Alberta, will also help Pildysh Technologies, which is developing portland cement blocks impregnated with bio-fibres that make them lighter and stronger.
Calgary-based Pildysh is a couple of years away from marketing a product, and vice-president Richard Bueble said the new centre should help speed the process.
“It’s a big jump to go from lab-scale research to manufacturing, and the resources at the centre will be a big help. Hopefully, we can attract some investor interest as well,” Bueble said.
The centre will give companies access to expertise, test facilities, scale-up equipment and customer demonstration support.
Alberta Advanced Education and Technology will provide $9 million in equipment funding over three years, while $6 million worth of in-kind support will come from Agri-culture and Rural Development and ARC.
Advanced Education and Technology Minister Doug Horner said it’s vital that Alberta take advantage of technology to add markets for our renewable resources.
“We need to build on our traditional industries, and the centre will be a catalyst for that. We’re ready to help agriculture and forestry be part of the convergence of new bio-industry technologies.”
Many new agriculture and forestry-based products are already in development in Alberta, but the key is getting them to the marketplace, Horner said.
And it’s more than just strawboard, which has been around for years, he said.
Scientists now take the feedstock, whether it’s wood or plant fibre, down to the molecular level and build up from there, he added.
Apart from the potential for jobs in an emerging industry, it gives farmers and forestry companies more economic options, Horner said.
“The more customers you get bidding for your product, the better it is for the producer.”
Sustainable Resource Minister Ted Morton said it’s important the forestry industry to develop new markets with the collapse of the U.S. housing sector.
And even turning its waste materials into new bio-products will help, said Morton, whose department will act as liaison between the centre and the forestry industry.
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