Highly porous carbon foam structures bonded with polymers such as polypropylene replace lead plates in typical vehicle batteries in a novel materials’ solution to problems with battery life and weight. The innovation comes from a company called Firefly Energy, using technology developed in the R&D Labs at Caterpillar, which was looking for a better battery for its vehicles. In the invention, carbon-graphite foam “grids” are loaded with lead oxides. The foam structure, creates huge surface-area advantages over conventional lead acid grid structures. Active material utilization levels go from the historical 20-50 percent up into the range of 70-90 percent as well as enhanced fast-recharge capability and greater high-rate / low-temperature discharge times, according to Firefly. Costs to produce energy will be higher than conventional lead acid batteries, but below other new technologies, such as lithium batteries. Firefly hopes the approach will be competitive for electric vehicles under development. North Star Battery will produce prototypes for possible use by the US Army.
The 100% solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 is prepping for its upcoming flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
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