Stemergy: Renewable Fibre Technology

Hemp parts made here for electric car project

26 August 2010

By RANDY FIEDLER - Red Deer Advocate

Scott getschel of Fiber-Werx International Inc. blows cuttings away as a five axis CNC router carves the mold for the Kestrel electric car's door from a fiberglass foam block in the company's Sylvan lake shop.

Fiber-Werx International Inc. began making a mould this week for the composite hemp door panels of the Kestrel, a four-seat electric car prototype. Built by Project Eve, a 15-company Canadian consortium, the Kestrel will range 40 to 160 km at up to 90 km/h before needing a recharge, depending on battery. It's the first of five models that would be built over three years.

Consortium co-founder and Kestrel designer Motive Industries of Calgary contracted the custom fibreglass manufacturing and repair firm it has worked with before.

“We'll be doing all the body parts, especially inner and outer skins,” said Fiber-Werx owner Scott Getschel, whose company also makes customized front grilles for SUVs converted to electric power by Vancouver's Rapid Electric Vehicles.

A computer-controlled five-axis router turned a fibreglass foam block into the shape of the Kestrel's door profile. The block will then be coated with tooling putty before coated again with fibreglass for the final mould.

A composite of hemp fibre and fibreglass would be injected into the mould to produce the door itself.

The light, low-cost hemp fibre replaces metal components, although not the frame. Hemp mats from plants grown near Vegreville were developed by Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures, the provincial Crown corporation that provides technical help and funding to help commercialize new technologies.

“We'll work with them on using the fibre,” said Getschel.

If things go well, Getschel said he'd expand his 17,000-square-foot plant to take on all of Project Eve's manufacturing needs.

If the Kestrel meets expectations, up to 20 electric vehicles could be made next year — and Derek Gratz hopes to build them here.

Gratz, Red Deer College's director of applied research and innovation, recently met with Motive Industries president Nathan Armstrong to discuss Project Eve's plans to use select Canadian polytechnic schools to work on its electric vehicles.

Gratz hopes RDC automotive service students would construct the Kestrel body before it's sent elsewhere for final assembly.

There's potential to have students studying power and control systems work on later models.

“Their first generation of prototypes is really well suited to us here. It should be a really cool opportunity.”

Gratz, whose first degree was in automotive design, credited collaboration between business, government and colleges for the chance to work on the electric car.

“How do we get industry involved with our students? How do we diversify this economy and get oil and gas expertise engaged in that diversification? It's the connectivity within the system.”

Despite their optimism, Gratz and Getschel both said everything depends on Project Eve getting the necessary investor or government funding to carry on with design and manufacture.

The Kestrel will be unveiled at the Electric Vehicle conference and trade show in Vancouver, Sept. 13 to 16.

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About Stemergy

Stemergy bio-fiber is focused on producing and supplying renewable bio-fibres - derived from annual stem fiber plants such as flax and hemp - to the expanding global bio-fiber marketplace.