The use of hemp fibers to create textiles, rope and paper as well as hemp oil as an ingredient in personal care products such as lip balm and lotions is fairly well known but you’re unlikely to find hemp industrial and building materials at your local Whole Foods. Among the less-common applications are hemp plastics and composite fibers. The latter can be up to 30% stronger — but much lighter — than many of the composites currently used in manufacturing cars, airplanes and other vehicles.
The reason this sustainable (plant-based, recyclable, biodegradable) material hasn’t taken the world by storm? It’s derived from Cannabis saliva, the same species of plant that gives us marijuana. Though it has a minute concentration of the psychoactive THC compared to its loco weed cousin, the federal government makes no regulatory distinction between the two plants. Nine US states have passed laws allowing commercial hemp cultivation, but farmers looking for the next big cash crop risk criminal charges if they don’t have a rarely-issued permit from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Fortunately, the Netherlands has less conservative cannabis policies than the United States, and it’s there that startup Van.Eko has built the world’s first hemp-bodied scooter. The electric Be.e has a striking design by Dutch firm Waarmakers. The natural fiber-reinforced composite monocoque body is strong enough that no internal frame is needed to support the components. The monocoque form has traditionally been a hallmark of Vespa designs, which may explain the tongue-in-cheek Be.e name — vespa is Italian for “wasp.”
The small, lightweight one-seater has a fender-mounted headlight and a tall windscreen in place of a full legshield. Aesthetically, the Be.e stands outside the norm without screaming “super future modern!,” with nice details such as horizontal stitching across the seat and attractive, traditional color schemes.
With a top speed of 35mph and a 35-mile range, the Be.e has rather modest specs, but is clearly intended for global urbanites with short commutes. As slow as that sounds, the Be.e’s 4KW electric motor puts out 70lb-ft. of torque with direct drive, meaning it’ll leave most gas scooters in the dust in a drag race (up to 35mph, of course). Dual disk brakes, telescoping front forks and large wheels help keep that power under control. Its narrow profile and low center of gravity should allow it to carve through congested city streets with ease.
The built-in 600W charger juices the engine at a rate of 12.4 miles of riding distance/hour — a full charge in under three.
The Be.e is manufactured primarily in the Netherlands and assembled by hand. The Van.Eko blog has several photos of its development and manufacturing.
While such a vehicle may not make sense to many Americans, consider this: According to Bloomberg, the Netherlands has the third-highest gas prices on the planet, with a US gallon priced at over $9 as of last February. Such pump prices in the US would have SUV owners abandoning their vehicles on the roadside and lining up to buy something like the Be.e.
Van.Eko’s desire to be “a company with a sustainable heart and an entrepreneurial backbone” (as their About page claims) isn’t limited to developing vehicles. They’ve introduced an unusual business model for the Be.e, the adorably named “Be.eKeeper Plan.” Van.Eko gives you a scooter to ride, you pay for mileage. Van.Eko retains ownership, paying for all maintenance and “damage risks” (which we assume means insurance). The multiple mileage plans range from 300 km/month for €140 (approximately 186 miles/month for $185USD) to 1,000 km/month for €170 (621 miles/month for $225USD), which is sure to appeal to commercial fleets. Much like some cell phone plans, Van.Eko rolls over unused miles to the next month. There’s an initial one-year commitment, after which the users move to a monthly plan.
They’re not stopping there. In addition, Be.eKeeper participants (subscribers?) will be able to sub-rent out their scooters when not in use via a system that’s sort of Lyft meets Zipcar. This could potentially offset a nice chunk of the monthly fee for many users whose vehicles spend most of the day sitting idle in a lot.
The plan could also give us a chance to take a ride through Amsterdam on a Be.e without having to pay for a full year of use.