What will be the material of choice for the bodies and structures of the first generation of electric cars? The Tesla Model S which is expected to debut in late 2011, will use aluminum alloy body panels. The highly publicized Roadster, which will cost twice as much, will use carbon composites.
The Tesla Model S
The critical factor is processing time. Hand layup of fiber combined with cure times work fine for an aircraft such as the Dreamliner. But that won’t cut it for production models of cars, even if production only reaches around 20,000 units. As reported by Design News, Plasan Carbon Composites is developing new technology that will cut process times, but - at least as far as Tesla is concerned — it apparently won’t be ready for prime time in 18 months.
Companies such as Alcoa would love to see aluminum used for the bodies of higher-volume electric cars. But steel, albeit newer and lighter steels, will often be the material of choice because of cost considerations. One engineering analysis “shows that it takes 9 years or 122,460 miles, at a gas price of $2.53 per gallon for aluminum structured vehicle to offset the total cost for steel structured vehicle.” Certainly, aluminum will be an important player for many structural components in cars. As reported by Design News, GM engineers selected forged aluminum wheels for the Chevy Volt.
A make-your-own Star Wars Sith Lightsaber hilt is heftier and better-looking than most others out there, according to its maker, Sean Charlesworth. You can 3D print it from free source files, and there's even a hardware kit available -- not free -- so you can build one just in time for Halloween.
Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.
Cars and other vehicles, as well as electronics and medical devices, continue to lead the use cases for the new plastics products we've been seeing, as engineers design products for tougher environments.
LeMond Composites, founded by three-time Tour de France cycling champion Greg LeMond, is the first to license a new carbon fiber production method invented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) that's faster, cheaper, and greener.
This month will mark the launch of the SpeedFoiler, a super-fast, ultra-lightweight foiling catamaran that can fly short distances over water faster than other foiling designs, in part because of its carbon composite materials.
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