Ford looks to Dow for carbon fiber composites to meet CAFE Requirements

In the effort to fulfill Federal mileage mandates, Ford is teaming up with the Dow Chemical Company to develop low-cost carbon fiber composites to be used in the component manufacturing process cutting 750 lbs from the weight of the next generation of autos.

That is the stated goal in weight reduction by the end of the decade – a key component of Ford’s effort to meet CAFE requirements. Ford is specifically partnering with Dow Automotive Systems, a business subgroup, in researching the application of cutting-edge carbon fiber composite materials in high-volume vehicle fabrication.

"There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. "Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload."

Ford is currently exploring a wide range of materials, design processes and new fabrication techniques to develop automotive parts that meet ever more stringent safety and quality standards while still reducing gross weight.

"Vehicle weight reduction for our customers through intelligent design with a materials focus has been a priority for Dow Automotive Systems," said Florian Schattenmann, director of Research and Development for Dow Automotive Systems. "This partnership with Ford on carbon fiber composites is a logical next step to progress already achieved through the use of lightweight, high-strength polymers and structural bonding technology."

Though Ford vehicles have used carbon fiber materials in the past it has been quite sparingly – only on the 2005-6 Ford GT and a 2010 Mustang special edition, all of which had hoods using the lightweight material, according to Alan Hall of Ford.

Though carbon fiber composites are commonly used in aerospace and racecars for both their strength and light weight, only recently they have begun to show up in concepts and certain low volume cars, such as those being developed for BMW’s electric/alternative line. Such materials have always been too costly to use in high-volume production processes.

In the joint development agreement signed by Dow Automotive Systems and Ford, the companies will collaborate on multiple levels. The development teams will focus on finding economical sources of high-grade carbon fiber and developing component fabrication processes for high-volume automotive use.

In theory, Dow Automotive’s expertise in research and development, as well as chemical and high-volume polymer processing will seamlessly compliment Ford's experience in design, engineering and high-volume vehicle production.

"Reducing weight will benefit the efficiency of every Ford vehicle," added Mascarenas. "However, it's particularly critical to improving the range of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles."

There every ounce of weight lost can extend the car’s range by hundreds of feet.

The Dow Chemical Company is already working with Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Given some measure of success, carbon fiber components may begin appearing on new Ford vehicles as early as the second half of this decade as engineering and development teams work to meet new fuel efficiency standards of over 50 mpg as well as extending the electric range of plug-in vehicles.

Comments

I spoke with a Ford engineer at NAIAS 2012 who stated the next phase has to be lighter weight, as there is a limit to downsizing engines. So, nice to read it's in process, but Auto News reported that Audi is way ahead of everyone with composites.