GM looking to bring carbon fiber to mass production vehicles
Carbon fiber doesn't have remain in the realm of the high end race vehicles, that is if GM and Teijin's plan works out. Carbon fiber materials are stronger than steel at a fraction of the weight. Less weight can mean a fast race car, or it can mean greater fuel efficiency, depending on how the technology is applied.
GM and Teijin today announced a plan to work together on expanding Teijin's carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic technology for mass production use. If it works out we'll see the technology used to reduce vehicle weight in the future, which should lead to fuel savings, while keeping the vehicle just as strong.
Carbon fiber materials arrange carbon atoms into a crystalline shape forming long fibers, that are twisted together like yarn, then woven to make a fabric. The crystal structure is what gives the material its high strength-to-weight ratio.
The traditional way to convert carbon fiber material into something like automobile parts is with thermosetting resins that take a long time to mold into the desired shape. Teijin's approach uses a thermoplastic which sets in under a minute, drastically reducing the time required to produce a part. This has the potential to become a process that can be used in scale needed for GM's manufacturing plants.
“Teijin’s innovative CFRTP technology, which promises to realize revolutionarily lighter automotive body structures, will play an important role in GM’s initiative to bring carbon fiber components into mainstream vehicles,” said Norio Kamei, senior managing director of Teijin. “We believe our visionary relationship with GM will lead the way in increased usage of green composites in the automotive industry.”
Teijin plans to open, in 2012, the Teijin Composites Application Center, which will be a technical center for development of the technology. They did not say precisely where the Center will be located other than "in the northern part of the United States".
Because carbon fiber is 10 times as strong as steel, at 1/4 the weight, its use can dramatically reduce vehicle weight. Race cars tend to be made using carbon fiber, to get the most oomph out of the on-board energy. Reduced weight means reducing the energy required to propel the car down the road, making the vehicle more efficient in terms of energy expended to achieve the desired outcome. For a race car the outcome is speed, whereas for the family sedan the outcome is higher fuel efficiency.