In a move aimed at continuing the federal government's ongoing effort to reduce fuel consumption, US dependence on foreign oil, and carbon pollution, the White House recently approved $14.2 million of new Department of Energy funding to promote the development of stronger, lighter materials for cars.
The Energy Department's funding takes aim at replacing cast-iron and traditional steel components with lighter materials such as high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber composites, and advanced steels and alloys, including high-strength steel, magnesium, and aluminum. Besides reducing fuel consumption by 6 percent to 8 percent for every 10 percent of weight reduction, lighter materials let car manufacturers add safety devices and emissions control equipment without increasing a vehicle's weight.
New Department of Energy funding to promote the development of stronger, lighter materials for cars includes research on steels like those proposed by companies such as Severstal North America in its Dearborn, Mich. facility, shown here. (Source: Severstal North America)
Existing federal funding for advanced high-strength steels research, which the federal government began funding in 2000 via the US Automotive Materials Partnership, dried up last year. Interestingly, the White House Energy Department's announcement came a day after the American Iron and Steel Institute released its industry profile at a congressional steel caucus hearing.
In July last year, the Energy Department conditionally approved a loan of $730 million to Severstal North America to assist in the design, manufacture, and construction of the company's finishing facilities in Dearborn, Mich., for making higher grades of advanced high-strength steel (AHSS). But the Energy Department decided in January not to close the loan, after senators and representatives in other steelmaking states fought it. Meanwhile, US Steel reportedly expects to begin operating a similar line for AHSS in its Pro-Tec Coating joint venture with Japan's Kobe Steel.
Well, if there isn't yet a database compiling all of that data, there needs to be, hence why it makes sense that predictive modeling and simulation eat up a sizeable chunk of the funding. Given how easy it is to slant performance metrics and position claims, there needs to be some trusted record of data to draw on so engineers in these fields, using these new materials, can make the best, most informed design choices.
The one thing I already worry about with small city cars is, what about all those huge trucks and buses they could run into? The safety standards would have to protect against low-speed crashes with huge vehicles, as well as with other small cars.
Beth, I also noticed the emphasis on predictive modeling. The announcement (link given in the article) is quite brief and doesn't give any more details. Having covered this subject before a little, I suspect it might be aimed at discovering which materials perform best, according to certain specs, for which specific applications, meaning, in different components of the car. I would guess that those specs would combine the required material performance characteristics (toughness, strength, impact resistance, chemical resistance, etc.) of that component with weight saved. To date, AFAIK there's no such automotive materials database, at least for composites or for composites vs metals, only many different manufacturers' claims and specs and tests. If anyone knows any different, please chime in.
This doesn't seem like much money for R&D, especially since it is spread out of a number of years. This may simply be the most the White House could put together without congressional approval. The load for the company in Dearborn woud have been massive. But in our current political climate, I can see why it didn't get through.
@TJ: That's an interesting idea. But, would it work in the US given that our car culture is centered on independence and mobility. Could another possibility be to beta test newer technologies in public transportation or partner with delivery companies, such as UPS or FedEx?
I haven't been following this issue closely. Why is it interesting that the DOE's announcement came the day after the American Iron and Steel Institute released its industry profile?
I think one way to help with this goal would be a new safety class, for light weight vehicles intended for city use, at lower speeds. The vehicle can be lighter, the safety equipment reduced. Lighter weight, lower cost, better fuel efficiency, all without the need for new materials (though such materials would also help with this class).
Maybe it's the lens in which I look at these things given my beat area for Design News, but it stuck me as interesting that predictive modeling and simulation endeavors are factoring so prominently into DOE funding. Now predictive modeling is different than the simulation (CAE) stuff we talk about here quite a bit. Any intel on what role exactly the predictive models are going to play in the work being done to advance lightweighting and new 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.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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