Department of Energy

DOE bankrolls lightweight automotive material development

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced the two-year plan to provide $14.2 million in funding to develop and expedite the creation of high-strength, advanced, lightweight carbon fiber reinforced polymers, futuristic steel and other lightweight automotive materials to reduce the mass of cars, thus increasing efficiency without sacrificing structural integrity.

According to a post on CompositeWorld.com, President Obama discussed this strategy at Ohio State University last week to discuss his overall strategy for American energy, including the $14.2 million effort by the Department of Energy to expedite the development and use of stronger and lighter materials for new vehicles, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, saving fuel and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal expenditure seeks to advance the development of high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber composites (CFCs) and advanced steels and alloys used in the production of automotive materials for the fabrication of vehicles.

“By investing in next-generation of vehicle materials and components, we are helping U.S. manufacturers improve the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and ensuring American companies remain at the cutting-edge of the global auto industry,” stated U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, according to the post. “Lighter, stronger materials will help improve the performance of our vehicles while saving families and businesses money at the pump.”

The industry has already been exploring the use of such lightweight automotive materials over the last decade and more and more aluminum, CFCs and high-strength steel are used in the production of today’s vehicles.

The result is in the lowered weight and increasing efficiency of vehicles as more lightweight automotive materials are incorporated along with other technological fuel-saving systems, like stop/start and cylinders-on-demand. A 10 percent reduction in a vehicle’s weight can reduce its fuel consumption buy six to eight percent – a fair return on investment.

Similarly, the substitution of lightweight automotive materials allows the addition of airbags and other technological safety developments without increasing the weight of the car.

The Dept. of Energy funding is specifically aimed at three distinct areas as follows:

Advancing the modeling of CFCs

This lightweight material can reduce the weight of a vehicle component by as much as 50 percent compared to the traditional use of steel. Funded projects in this area will confirm the modeling tools used to advance the structural integrity and cost-effectiveness of CFCs in fabrication body, chassis, and interior parts.

Advancing the development of high-strength steels
These modern metals can lower the weight of components by over 25 percent. Projects selected in this area will develop modeling tools to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of the next generation of high strength steels used as automotive material.

Promoting the innovation of advanced alloys
To meet the needs of today’s heavy-duty engines more advanced alloys are needed to enhance the limits of automotive efficiency. As the demands increase, cast engine components must be strong enough to withstand higher cylinder pressures and yet still remain as light as possible. Funded projects in this are will be aimed at developing cost-effective, high-strength alloys for use in heavy duty engine blocks and cylinder heads for the cars of today and beyond.

As much as $8.2 million will be made available by the DOE during fiscal year 2012, subject to congressional appropriations. The Department plans to extend an additional $6 million in 2013 to fully fund projects, which may take from 2 to 4 years for completion.

The Department is accepting applications from the industry, recognized national laboratories, as well as university researchers to further these goals and enable technology that sparks innovation in vehicle design.

Those interested in helping to develop lightweight automotive materials must submit applications by May 7, 2012. For more information and application requirements, refer to the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

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