DOE and USCAR to Develop High-Strength Materials in $70 Million Project

03 June 2005

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) are to collaborate in a $70 million, five year agreement to develop lightweight, high-strength materials that increase fuel efficiency through weight reduction.

The project aims to reduce vehicle weight without compromising safety, where it is estimated that every ten percent reduction in vehicle weight results in an approximate seven percent savings in fuel.

""Lighter weight vehicles can make a noticeable improvement in fuel efficiency,” Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said. ""This research will help to reduce oil usage and reduce emissions, while maintaining the highest of safety standards.""

Jospeh Carpenter of the DOE said that they are primarily working on developing automotive grade carbon fibre at $3-$5/lb, and to develop the processes for fabricating cost-competitive automotive structures from them using either thermoset or thermoplastic matrices.

Asked whether there is a particular focus of the research, eg recyclability of structural components, Carpenter informed me that the work is generic for all automotive components without any particular emphasis on any given automotive part.

However, he did suggest that one of the projects will focus on researching the structural properties of B-Pillars.

In this project, the DOE conducted preform optimization and carbon fibre preforming trials in support of ACC's FP3 B-pillar, and investigated 2Phase tooling material for random fibre performing.

The criterion for selecting the physical tests is to ensure that they will highlight the effects of defects likely to occur in the part.

For this effort, it is assumed that the most significant defect will be variations in the fibre content: specifically, low fibre volume in critical areas. Fibre content measurements (e.g., resin burn-off) are conducted throughout the part to determine a reasonable range of fibre volume fraction variation. Both the B-pillar inner and outer were segmented into zones, as shown in the image, such that the material properties could be varied, corresponding to fibre content variations, in a systematic fashion.

DOE's FreedomCAR Program and USCAR’s U.S. Automotive Materials Partnership will split the cost of research and development for a number of new materials and technologies that will reduce weight without compromising durability, reliability, and safety of vehicles. None of the DOE funds go to the automakers, rather the resources are directed to government labs, universities and suppliers to help develop the nation's technology base.

Improved manufacturing and use of advanced high-strength steel can reduce vehicle weight by 15 to 25 percent. The research will also work to develop new alloys of aluminium, magnesium and titanium to be used in vehicle framing, body, powertrain and engine components. Beyond metals, new materials for use in car manufacturing such as carbon fibre and polymer matrix composites could produce weight reductions from 25 and up to 70 percent.

“Bringing together the best minds in industry, government and academia will develop technology faster and more cost effectively than any one organization could do alone,” USCAR Executive Director Bill Gouse said.

USCAR facilitates cooperative research among DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation who share the common goal of strengthening the technology base of the U. S. automotive industry.

The DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, who are heavily involved in the research and development project will use the research for their own internal purposes to be used for their own future automotive developments.

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