That was interesting to me, too, Ann, that lighter vehicles aren't necessarily less safe. Good to know, especially as the government and the auto industry pursue and invest in the use of lighter-weight materials for production.
The concept of reducing mass by casting metals with a foam structure is not new, the idea is something that I have seen quite a long time ago. The challenge is in the production, since bubbles in molten metal tend to join and form larger voids thqat wind up being flaws, instead of remaining as small bubbles like they do in some plastic molding processes, where they are produced intentionally. Probably the place where success will be had first would be in die-casting, where a high pressure foaming gas can be used.
But even after the process is developed the issue of increased corrosion will still exist, which will probably prevent the use of lightened meatls in automotive applications.
Yes, aerospace is interested. That is why NASA is on board for funding. But I now work in the commercial aerospace and the goal is lower weight for the airlines and lower cost for us the manufacturer. The issue is that ground vehicles represent millions of units/year and aircraft represent (at best in economy) hundred thousand units/year.
What will be interesting is if the innovations can lead to weight and cost reductions! This is what the markets are screaming for!
By the way, hope this is a real innovative source and not another campaign money laundering front (like Solyndra)!
Chuck, Along with the auto industry, I would think that other transportation industries such as aerospace would also be prime uses of lightweighting technologies. But it may these materials will ultimately be more and more universal going into the future.
Excellent report. These types of research initiatives, if properly managed, can produce sustainable benefits. Glad to see that these are intending to become self-sustaining which should help build immediate links to industry and mechanisms for technology transfer.
Thanks, Dave, for that input, and the link, about the DOE meeting on Lightweight Materials. Re the gender statistics, I knew a lot more men got in accidents than women, but I'd never have guessed the ratio was that high. In any case, glad to hear that lighter vehicles don't make as much of a difference when it comes to safety--I was laboring under the same misimpression.
Last month, I was at the Department of Energy's Annual Merit Review in Washington. At this meeting, DOE researchers present their latest work and receive feedback from industry experts.
The Lightweight Materials program within the DOE's Vehicle Technologies Office is funding some very interesting projects, and I'm planning to do an article about this. (This is part of the $14.2 million that Ann mentioned in her article).
Most of the presentations were about new materials technologies, but one interesting presentation I saw dealt with the societal impacts of lighter-weight vehicle. There is a widespread public perception that lighter vehicles are less safe. The study showed that, while there is a tiny but statistically significant increase in risk with lighter vehicles, it is dwarfed by other factors, such as road conditions or the gender of the driver.
All other factors being equal, the simple genetic fact of being male is several orders of magnitude more dangerous than driving a lightweight car. Food for thought...
Thanks Lou for the enthusiastic response. I was happy to see this development, too. The Feds, and the automotive industry, are interested in finding lightweighting materials appropriate for the particular job, and that will most likely include metals, plastics and composites. At least right now, you're right about lesser recyclability of composites than metals, but that probably won't last long. There are several R&D efforts underway to understand what's required and develop processes and infrastructure, in particular by big-volume composites users like Boeing: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=235280
Ann, this is a really big step in the right direction. Metals are much better choices that many of the more exotic materials for mass produced products. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think that the recyclability of composites is nearly that of metals. I just read an interesting fact. The US has all the steel it needs from scrap metal available in the US. I read that in an article contrasting that with China, which has relatively little iron ore and a growing need. The irony is that we have the iron ore as well. The main point is that we resue so much of the steel that is produced that we do not need to refine steel from ore. This recycling of steel is also much less energy intensive than the process of refining ore.
Lightening automobiles is also a great environmental benefit. We have been making engines more efficient so that some of them rival hybrids on the highway. Take 500 or 1,000 pounds away from a vehicle and we can easily meet the CAFE standards. Considering the resurgence of oil production in the US and the national security implications are greater than the new combat vehicles that might result.
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