An ultra lightweight concept car from Toyota is making its North American debut this morning at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. The body frame is made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the same material used in the Boeing Dreamliner fuselage and wings. Toyota says the CFRP material “is lighter and stronger than traditional metals, creating a shock-absorbing like structure with cross-sections that help absorb energy during an impact.” Its curb weight of 926 pounds is one-third the weight of the Prius hybrid. Metal is also replaced in the roof of the concept car. The 1/X is made from a bioplastic derived from kenaf and ramie plants. “The result is a roof that improves heat insulation, emits less carbon dioxide, increases the amount of light entering the cabin, and reduces noise,” says the Toyota announcement. Ramie is a fibrous plant native to eastern Asia. This is the first time I’ve heard of it being used in plastics. Kenaf has been under study as reinforcement in plastics for more than a dozen years. Toyota has been a leader in developing biplastics in recent years, but the 1/X announcements leaves many questions unanswered. What is the plastic used in the “bioplastic”? kenaf and ramie are reinforcing and filler media. Is it PLA, a PLA hybrid, or something else? What are the body panels made of? Is CFRP practical as a material of construction in cars, or is this just a great PR model? High cost and tight supplies of CFRP could limit its widespread use in cars. Are there any unique glazing concepts in the 1/X?
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
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