In the year 1941, Henry Ford presented to the public a Model T Ford created out of a hemp fiber composite, similar to plastic, that was light, rugged and cheap to construct. The proud inventor even tested the chassis of the vehicle by swatting it with a fireman’s axe, but did no damage. Considering that a full grown man with a two-handed tree killer couldn’t scratch the hemp panels that armored the car, it is logical to say that the composite could potentially be used to protect humans, too.
Kevlar, patented by DuPont back in 1965, is comprised of small, synthetic fibers woven together to stop blades, bullets or blows. The material is even naturally fire resistant. However, because of its synthetic nature, manufacturing Kevlar is dangerous and pollutes the environment with by products such as sulfuric acid. It is also expensive to create, requiring hours of production. The stuff is also not UV resistant, and it even corrodes in sunlight, reducing its efficiency.
Compared to the system of creating Kevlar or forging metal, growing hemp is an all-natural process requiring only soil, sun, water and time. Hemp is better for the environment because of this, but also because the material created out of hemp is still biodegradable, as opposed to plastic. The final material is also lighter than Kevlar or steel, which is good news for soldiers who have to wear nearly 31 pounds of body armor to protect themselves.
Many decades later, military scientists are looking for newer and lighter body armors for the modern soldier. While Kevlar has been the mainstay for nearly a generation, the search remains for something even stronger to protect wearers from harm. Hemp plastic might just be it. It is already understood in the automobile industry that parts created out of hemp are ten times stronger than steel, and many cars use them already. Why not apply the same technological theory to body armor?
A company in Amsterdam called Hemp Works already offers a hefty bulletproof jacket called the Hemp Hoodlamb that is rated at a respectable level II-A, which the manufacturers claim has been tested with .22, 9mm and .357 magnum bullets. (However, the civilian option currently costs $7,000.) Another company working on a hemp option to Kevlar called Naturally Advanced Technologies has created their own material, Crailar, which shows good promise.
Naturally Advanced Technologies is a company that takes hemp fibers and treats them with a patented enzymatic solution that further enhances their already protective qualities by making the final material softer and thinner than silk, but stronger and lighter. This material, called Crailar, can also be converted into plastic materials similar to the kind Henry Ford’s famous Model T Ford was made of.
Government agencies associated military operations already make great use of synthetic polymers that could be replaced by hemp alternatives. Glock semiautomatic pistols have been used by police for decades, and they are made of plastic compounds similar to Crailar’s creations. The Army is currently working on a helmet made of polyethylene compounds that they hope will stop 7.62mm rounds (the kind used in an AK-47). This material, being fibrous because it is not made of metal, is also 50 percent better at stopping the fragmentation effects of improvised explosions. Hemp compounds could be used instead, to greater effect.
If the military used hemp fibers in the same way that Hemp Works and Naturally Advanced Technologies has, many weapons, armor and materials could be replaced by lighter, stronger, sterner hemp plastic. This would not only be safer for the soldier, but also for the Earth.