As part of the Obama Administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy to reduce the United States’ reliance on foreign oil and save drivers money at the pump, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced seven new projects to accelerate the development and deployment of stronger and lighter materials for the next generation of American-made cars and trucks.
These projects include the development and validation of modeling tools to deliver higher performing carbon fiber composites and advanced steels, as well as research into new lightweight, high-strength alloys for energy-efficient vehicle and truck engines.
The Department of Energy (Washington, DC) has awarded two projects to validate existing modeling tools to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of carbon fiber and other specialized composite materials for vehicle body, chassis, and interior uses.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA), is receiving an approximately $1 million investment to validate carbon fiber composite models. This project will entail integration and validation of fiber orientation and length distribution models for injection molded long-carbon-fiber thermoplastic composites. Models will be validated for a complex three-dimensional automotive part made from long-carbon-fiber thermoplastic composites.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN), meanwhile, will receive $747,820 for a project entitled “Fiber Orientation and Fiber Length Distribution Prediction for Injection Molded Long Carbon Fiber Composites.” This project will implement and validate computational tools for prediction of fiber orientation and fiber length distribution in injection molded long-carbon-fiber thermoplastic composites for automotive applications. Validation will be performed on a 3D complex part.
The big winner, however, is steel, with the United States Automotive Materials Partnership (Detroit, MI) winning $6 million to demonstrate an integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) approach for the development and deployment of third-generation advanced high-strength steels (3GAHSS) for weight reduction in passenger vehicles through the integration and application of a suite of models, and simulate forming and performance for an assembly of at least four components.
The White House’s take
“With strong, lightweight materials we have an opportunity to dramatically increase vehicle fuel economy, while helping America maintain its competitive edge in automotive design and manufacturing,” says Secretary Chu. “Today’s investment in new lightweight materials builds on the Obama Administration’s historic fuel economy standards that are already helping drivers save money at the pump.”
The Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to improve the fuel efficiency of American vehicles, reaching historic agreements to improve fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks through Model Year 2025.
These standards are expected to save consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump, or about $8200 in costs over the lifetime of each vehicle. In fact, the initial set of standards for Model Years 2011 to 2016 is already having an impact for American families and businesses. The Energy Information Administration estimates model year 2011 cars achieved record average fuel economy at 34.4 miles per gallon, representing a 2% increase over 2010 model year cars.
Replacing traditional steel components with lightweight materials—including advanced high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum, and carbon fiber composites—allows vehicle manufacturers to include additional safety devices, integrated electronic systems, and emissions control equipment on vehicles without increasing their weight according to the Administration.
“Using lighter materials also reduces a vehicle’s fuel consumption. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by just 10 percent can improve the fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent.”