Hemp can be used to make more than 25,000 products, according to the the North American Industrial Hemp Council, but issues with its closely related and far more psychedelic cousin, marijuana, means state and federal officials are keeping close tabs. While other countries around the world have continued using it over the years, farming, processing, and manufacturing knowledge has stagnated in the U.S. since it was made illegal in the mid 20th century.
Its fibers are rising in popularity for use in construction materials such as hempcrete (similar to concrete), insulation, and auto parts. German car companies have more than tripled their use of natural fibers, including hemp, to about 15,500 tons since 1999, according to ABC News reports. Those fibers, mostly used to make plastics, are often lighter and sometimes stronger than synthetic and metal-based components. In recent years French automaker PSA has stepped up its use of hemp as a replacement for fiberglass in some components, such as mirror and windshield wiper mountings, according to a company announcement. It recounts that the use of hemp and other natural fibers isn’t exactly new in the auto world:
“It was actually done in the U.S.A. by Henry Ford while hemp was legal in 1941,” a spokesman notes. “The experimental model’s body was seventy percent made of fibers from field straw, cotton fibers, hemp, and flax. The other 30 percent consisted of soy meal and bio-resin fillers. Ford’s successful prototype was tagged as the vegetable or hemp car.”
Album: The Rise of Industrial Hemp in Tennessee