A 1983 Mercedes Benz turbo diesel station wagon named “HempCar” hit the highways of North America this summer, with a clean, green message: hemp and other plants can provide an affordable alternative to fossil fuels. To prove it, HempCar ran up 10,000 miles on the speedometer, covering the entire distance of their cross-continent journey fueled on biodiesel made from hemp oil.
Biodiesel is produced by reacting a vegetable fat or oil with an alcohol in the presence of a catalyst. It is petroleum-free and can be used in any diesel engine with no major modifications. Compared to standard petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel reduces CO2 emissions by 78%.
So why use hemp oil when any vegetable oil could do?
“We wanted to prove the utility of industrial hemp to society,” says Kellie Sigler of Hampton, Virginia, one of HempCar’s drivers, along with husband Grayson Sigler. Scott Fur and Chuck Ruchalski round out the crew of four, and are documenting the tour.
The colorful wagon, emblazoned with logos from its many sponsors, turned out to be an effective mobile billboard for the twinned messages of biofuels and hemp.
Starting off in Washington DC, media coverage picked up considerably when they crossed the border into Canada. With appearances at various rallies and events, including the Seattle Hempfest, the crew estimated that their message had reached 70 million people.
Although prohibition means hemp is currently unavailable as a biofuel source in the US, biodiesel production is increasing markedly. US biodiesel production has increased from 5 million to 20 million gallons over the past year. As bio-based fuel consumption grows, perhaps hemp could lend a helping hand.