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!".
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.
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.
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.
A middle school team from Rochester, Mich., has again nabbed the grand prize in the annual international Future City Competition, which drew students from 37 regions of the United States, as well as from England and China.
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