During the 1960s and 1970s, Team Lotus (Hethel, England) was synonymous with cutting-edge racecars, innovative engineering ideas and world-champion drivers. Today, the company if developing lightweight sports cars by focusing on sustainable materials such as hemp.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Team Lotus (Hethel, England) was synonymous with cutting-edge racecars and innovative engineering ideas such as the monocoque chassis and ground effects. By focusing on aerodynamics and handling, rather than brute horsepower, the late Colin Chapman built lightweight grand prix-dominating cars for world-champion drivers such as Mario Andretti, Jimmy Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt.

Today, Lotus innovation is being applied to environmentally friendly sports cars, such as the Eco Elise. It features body panels and trim made from hemp, sisal and other sustainable materials. Using a “performance through light weight” philosophy, the Eco Elise weighs 71 pounds less than the standard Elise S.

“The reduction in mass improves the handling and braking performance, and also reduces the effort required to accelerate the car,” claims Mike Kimberley, CEO of Group Lotus. “The weight reduction philosophy has even extended to the audio system, with an exceptionally lightweight stereo and speaker system that weighs 3.3 pounds.” The vehicle also uses lightweight wheels that reduce the unsprung mass and contribute a weight savings of 35 pounds over the already super light Elise wheels.

Hemp fabrics are used as the primary material in the composite body panels and spoiler. “The renewable hemp has exceptional material properties that make for a very strong fiber,” says Kimberley. “Historically, hemp has been used in the manufacture of rope, illustrating the great strength of the material.”

Sisal is a another renewable crop that, like hemp, exhibits strong material properties. It was used for the carpets in the Eco Elise because it is a tough, abrasion-resistant material.

The hemp hard top on the Eco Elise has two flexible solar panels embedded in the roof, contributing power to the electrical systems and saving energy that would be drained from the engine. Hemp was also used to manufacture the car’s seats.

“An additional benefit of using hemp is that it is a natural resource that requires relatively low energy to manufacture and absorbs CO2 while growing as a plant through natural photosynthesis,” Kimberley points out. “This material is used with a polyester resin to form a hybrid composite. However, it is hoped that a fully recyclable composite resin will be viable in the near future.”