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?
A slew of announcements about new materials and design concepts for transportation have come out of several trade shows focusing on plastics, aircraft interiors, heavy trucks, and automotive engineering. A few more announcements have come independent of any trade shows, maybe just because it's spring.
At the JEC Europe 2015 composites show in Paris last month, makers of composite materials, software, and process equipment showed off their latest innovations. This year's show saw some announcements related to automotive applications, but many of the improvements came in the world of aerospace.
The DuPont-sponsored Plastics Industry Trends survey shows engineers want improved performance in a broad range of plastics and better recycling technology. These concerns top even processing enhancements that improve productivity.
Plastics leader SABIC recently announced a global initiative to help its customers take advantage of additive manufacturing (AM) and also advance 3D printing (3DP) technologies in several application areas. The company's plans go way beyond materials, and also include design, processing, and part performance.
A theme that was reflected in several ways at NPE 2015 was the use of 3D printing to assist in, or improve on, injection molding, as well as improvements in 3D printing materials and processes that are making better functional prototypes and end-use parts.
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