We've reported before about various plans to improve the manufacturing of carbon fiber composites for use in mainstream automobile manufacturing. These efforts are among several automotive lightweighting approaches being tried to help cars meet federal fuel efficiency standards. Now the Australian company Carbon Revolution says it has made the first one-piece, all-carbon fiber composite wheel for cars and planes.
The CR-9 wheel is constructed from continuous carbon fiber. Both front and rear wheels have a 19-inch rim diameter. The front wheel has a rim width of 8.5 inches and weighs 15.73 pounds. The back wheel has a rim width of 12 inches and weighs 18.15 pounds. Carbon Revolution says the wheels are 40 percent to 50 percent lighter than typical automotive OEM aluminum wheels. A quick check around the Web gave an average weight of about 25 pounds for an aluminum car wheel of roughly the same size.
The one-piece CR-9 front wheel weighs 7kg (15.73 pounds), has a rim diameter of 19 inches, and attaches to metal hardware with a patented joint system under dynamic loading conditions. (Source: Carbon Revolution)
A patented bolted joint system is used to attach composites to the CR-9's metal hardware under dynamic loading conditions. As we've reported before, mixed materials attachment methods are an ongoing problem in newer aerospace designs that combine metals with carbon fiber composites, most recently in the Airbus 380 wings. Carbon Revolution says its joint system is as highly engineered as the wheel's composite structure.
CR-9 wheels are designed using computational modeling techniques, which include full vehicle dynamic modeling and finite element analysis (FEA). Carbon Revolution says its computational simulations are so closely correlated to actual wheel behavior that product development timeframes are shortening. (You can watch a video of CR-9 impact tests simulating a pothole at the bottom of the post.) Because the behavior of fiber laminates is much more complicated compared to cast or forged metals, the company is working with FEA partners to develop improved methods for accurately modeling carbon fiber properties.
Although there's a wealth of information for longstanding aerospace applications, putting this technology to use in automotive manufacturing is a challenge. For example, recently renewed US Department of Energy funding for automotive lightweighting emphasizes research and development in the predictive modeling of carbon fiber composites, including the development and validation of modeling tools to optimize carbon fiber composite performance and cost-effectiveness. (See: Automotive Lightweighting Funding Renewed by White House.)
The process for manufacturing CR-9 wheels combines aerospace manufacturing rigor with the efficiency, process controls, and automation of high-volume automotive production lines. By 2013, Carbon Revolution hopes to have certification for TS16949, the ISO technical specification detailing the development of automotive quality management systems. Its approach has attracted funding from the Australian government's $5.4 billion New Car Plan.
The company began as an independently run R&D program collaborating with university research teams working on Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) student designs. Vehicles in the 2004 competition used the first composite wheels designed by Carbon Revolution's founders. Its founders and employees include senior engineers in chassis development and drive train functions from automotive OEMs, senior manufacturing executives from component suppliers such as Bosch, former employees of Boeing's Phantom Works, and industrial composites manufacturing specialists. The company also maintains technology development and product testing relationships with Deakin University and RMIT in Australia.
Looks like a really important development effort. Not only does the wheel help with the lightweighting strategies of automotive OEMs, I'd say it's still pretty good looking. Given that style is such an important element of car selection, I'd say any kind of modifications to materials or appearance in the name of lightweighting vehicles still has to have an appeal to consumers and I think this example satisfies both.
I wonder about true real world impact testing on a carbon fibre wheel.
See the old steel rims could take a curb or nasty detroit pot-hole and you could drive off with a dent in the rib. The tire might leak some air on the way home. A mallet or a torch and you could get it back into shape.
The aluminum wheels are usually pretty good, but occasionally I've seen a pot-hole crack the aluminum and the wheel is toast. I've seen people weld aluminum rims, after damage, but I'd stay away from that.
Carbon fibre is brittle and shatters. I envision hitting a curb or nasty pot-hole and having the entire wheel splinter into shards. Most of us have seen carbon fibre at the race track and what happens during impact.
Sven, I think your concerns are real, but so is the crash-worthiness testing of carbon fiber made for high-volume automotive apps. Not all carbon fiber composites are made in the same way. Stay tuned for my upcoming September feature on this topic.
Sorry had to edit this. Browser I was using to reply left all the spaces out.
I look forward to it! I love technology, and I imagine there will be a huge safety factor put in. I just keep having visions of things like the time Kimi Raikkonen was on his way to win an F1 race and his rear wing let go. It put up with several G's down force--until it didn't--then it was instantly obliterated. Ductile metals have a forgiveness as they are over loaded they fail and stretch and deform until becoming unusable. Carbon fibre is so strong but past the yield point it seems its almost instant fail. In concrete we use rebar to offset the brittleness. Maybe this carbon fibre will have some stretchy/bendy fibres???
The only impossible thing is skiing through a revolving door.
If there's incentive enough, a chemist and the company backing him are going to be very rich.
You've forgotten carbon comes in several forms (cough cough diamond cough cough). It's clear, fiber's been black all this time. Surely there's some room in the middle for a bit of color. Maybe the fibers are carbon nano-tubes, and the interiors can be filled with a colored element.
I wish I had the capital. I see a mint in the making.
Gee, I don't know - why would you pay the price for carbon and then not show-it-off? Isn't that part of the glamour? I do know that people have added pigment to the resin on some carbon assemblies. It is, after all FRP, so you can make the plastic any color you want. I'm much more impressed with the fastenings. So far, if you want to connect a carbon fiber assembly to something, you must either bond it, or use fasteners which typically create such high point loads that the carbon assembly fractures. There is great potential in this technology though I'd guess cost will be the major factor in implementing it.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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