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Automakers Drive Carbon Composites

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Rob Spiegel
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Carbon composites probably inevitable
Rob Spiegel   9/11/2012 2:03:26 PM
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Good overview of the auto industry's work on carbon composites, Ann. Seems it is inevitable that carbon composites will eventually be used in consumer autos. It will be interesting to see whether the costs come down once they hit high-volume manufacturing. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Ann R. Thryft   9/11/2012 3:30:33 PM
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Thanks, Rob. Progress isn't very fast, but it is being made. What's just happened recently is the formation of these consortia of major players with a lot of R&D dollars committed to making it happen. Costs will definitely come down once the processes and materials have been developed that will work in high volumes, since lower-cost materials and processes are among the top goals of all of these efforts.

Charles Murray
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Charles Murray   9/11/2012 6:47:44 PM
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Great, timely article, Ann, especially with the current push toward 54.5 mpg. Maybe I missed it in the article, but is anyone considering magnesium, titanium or other alternative metals?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Ann R. Thryft   9/12/2012 11:54:52 AM
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Thanks, Chuck. This article was focused specifically on carbon composites. Both metals you mention are considered for aerospace--titanium especially is used in various places on aircraft--but are usually considered far too expensive (materials) and/or slow to produce to consider for mass manufacturing of high-volume cars. Titanium is sometimes used in high-end race cars.

ratkinsonjr
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
ratkinsonjr   9/12/2012 2:25:21 PM
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The use of alternative materials such as carbon fiber or titanium, as stated in the article, is driven by fuel efficiency goals. to improve fuel efficiency, there are three main areas of research: reducing weight, reducing dissipative losses (frictional losses & aerodynamic drag) and improving powerplant efficiency. These can be complementary, as improvements in one area can provide benefits in the other areas. A titanium engine block, for example, would be lighter, but might also have a higher operating temperature, reducing the size of the radiator, which would reduce weight and frontal area, lowering drag.

The problem with titanium is the cost of separating the metal from the ore. Aluminum was once more expensive than gold, until the Hall-Herout process was developed to extract the pure metal from ore more cheaply. If a similar breakthough could be achieved with titanium, it would have much wider application as the cost would be much lower.

Similarly, if the process for manufacturing raw carbon fiber could be improved, and production rates increased through improved fabrication processes, the cost would drop, and more products could afford to take advantage of carbon fiber's unique material properties.

So it seems that the research efforts should focus on reducing material cost. Once the cost is low enough, as the saying goes: "If you build it, they will come!".

Scott Orlosky
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Scott Orlosky   9/16/2012 2:22:07 PM
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This seems like an interesting element in the "lightweighting" game.  As ratkinsonjr points out, sometimes a process development is needed before materials become cost effective.  Who knows, perhaps converting automatic knitting machines to make cloth "shapes" for the automotive industry is the sort of cross-pollination of technologies that could make carbon fiber cost effective as a solution. Glad to see a consortium working on this.  Thanks for the story.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Dave Palmer   9/21/2012 6:47:05 PM
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@Ann: Titanium is not expected to play a big role in automotive lightweighting, but magnesium is.  The Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Program forecasts that magnesium will make up 12% of a vehicle's weight by 2035 (compared to <1% today).  They have been doing a lot of work on magnesium casting techniques.  This would make a good topic for a future article.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 12:42:08 PM
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Thanks, Dave, for that input. All my sources have said magnesium is extremely expensive, much too expensive for high-volume automotive manufacturing. Any idea how that's being addressed?

VM
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
VM   4/10/2014 9:37:17 AM
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I sure wouldn't want to be anywhere close to a car fire if there was any significant amount of flamable metal in it's ocnstruction.

 

Villy

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Rob Spiegel   9/12/2012 12:48:27 PM
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I would imagine this effort will pay off, Ann. It's good to see this effort matched with an effort to produce a viable battery system for EVs and hybrids. That auto industry is on a tear.

fdonmedway
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
fdonmedway   10/11/2012 6:26:42 PM
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Why the fascination of carbon fibres. The same techniques can be used with glass fibres which are cheaper. This can create as light structures which are, admittedly, less stiff but no less strong. The main importance is correct fibre orientation and high fibre density, i.e. squeezing out the resin. The same techniques can be applied to glass as carbon.

The high fibre density is cheaper in materials, lighter and less brittle.

Rapid curing is generally a result of using an appropriate resin - plus the use of heat. The advantage of applying heat is that a slower mix can be used but rapid curing applied once the shell or component is fully laid up. The safest method would be to use hot water. Possibly a water jacket could be applied using the water to squeeze the shells to get high compaction and then the cold water could be run out and hot water inserted to accelerate the cure.

Archie

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Rob Spiegel   10/12/2012 11:13:37 AM
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Archie, I think the fascination with carbon fibers is the environmental factor. However, the steel folks argue that the front end of the carbon fiber process eats up considerable energy -- plus, they argue that steel is very easy to recycle.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Ann R. Thryft   10/8/2013 11:41:32 AM
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The strength to weight ratio of carbon fiber composites is higher than that of glass fiber composites. And the greater stiffness is very important in cars and planes.



Rob Spiegel
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Rob Spiegel   10/8/2013 11:49:50 AM
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Ann, does that mean that glass fiber composites are likely to get sidelined? Or, are there still applications for which glass fiber composites are the superior solution?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Ann R. Thryft   10/8/2013 12:35:28 PM
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Not at all, Rob. Many composite developers we've reported on are working on both types. They each can have their place in a given vehicle.

Lightfellows
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Re: Carbon composites probably inevitable
Lightfellows   2/4/2014 4:46:26 AM
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I read with interest the threads on CF –I am involved with many companies worldwide regards CF composites and what I am seeing is new CF material formats combined with new and modified process and polymers that are opening up a significant potential for auto applications. Aluminium's, steels, titanium and magnesium will never compete with a material format that can be moulded with variable thicknesses – strategic laminate direction and can be combined with many other materials. You will see a greater use of glass CF hybrids in the future. Regarding recycling – with the greater acceptance of TP polymers and their increase performance the recycling issue goes away!! so yes the use of CF is inevitable !!

Martin O'Connor  - Zoltek Automotive

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