The BMW i3, a new all-electric car which debuted on Monday, weights just 2,700 pounds, 800 pounds less than the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. BMW achieved this by using a variety of low-weight materials --including plenty of hemp in the interior -- to maximize fuel efficiency and driving range.
Weight is essential, reports TruthonPot.com, because the i3 depends on a 22-kilowatt lithium-ion battery for fuel; the battery is so heavy it contributes about 20 percent of the vehicle's mass. Like many BMWs before it, the i3 features door panels made of hemp; mixed with plastic, hemp helps lower the weight of each panel by about 10 percent.
Hemp fibers, left exposed, also form a design element of the car's interior, reports Bloomberg. Designer Benoit Jacob says the use of natural materials like hemp and kenaf (a plant in the hibiscus family) makes the i3's interior feel like "a small loft on wheels."
BMW has tested and used natural hemp fiber since the 1990s, when government pressure to use recyclables forced European manufacturers to build greener vehicles.
Starting with trunk liners and airbag components, BMW expanded into making door panels from hemp. Hemp panels were used in all of BMW's 5 Series models by 2006; many other European luxury carmakers, including Mercedes Benz and Audi, now also use hemp in one form or another.
Set to launch next year, the BMW i8, an electric hybrid supercar, will also include hemp components.
(Photo of BMW 5 Series door panel made of hemp: Redspiderfish/Flickr)