In order to make weight in the Environmental Protection Agency’s CAFE standards race for fuel economy, automakers look to go with lighter, yet still durable materials. That’s why Ford Motor Co. is partnering with Dow Chemical Co.’s automotive division to develop cost-effective uses of carbon fiber in high-volume car and truck production, reports Reuters.
Carbon fiber composites by 2020
By the end of the decade, the partnership between Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will be responsible for a variety of advanced carbon fiber composites in Ford vehicles. The resulting weight reduction will make it much easier for Ford to achieve the fuel efficiency needed to dominate in fleet sales. Higher fuel prices and increasingly strict mpg requirements will magnify the need for lighter vehicles.
The official goal Ford has set for itself with carbon fiber components is to slash between 250 and 750 pounds from each of its new vehicles by 2020. This will reduce engine strain, wring out extra miles per gallon and improve the range of electric and hybrid vehicles on a single charge.
“Reducing weight will benefit the efficiency of every Ford vehicle,” said Ford’s head technical officer, Paul Mascarenas. “However, it’s particularly critical to improving the range of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles.”
Obama demands a doubling
The Obama administration has decreed that U.S. automakers must boost average fuel efficiency in all cars and trucks to 54.5 mpg by the time 2025 models hit the market. Consumer vehicles from the 2011 model year offer an average of 22.8 mpg. So the CAFE standard will have to double in less than 15 years. Ford’s average was 21.3 mpg, according to the EPA.
Last month, the Obama administration made an official announcement that the U.S. government would pledge $14.2 million to the furtherance of carbon fiber research and production.
Keeping up with the competition
Ford’s partnership with Dow comes after General Motors Co. signed a pact last year with Teijin Ltd. to develop carbon fiber components for GM’s global assortment of vehicles. BMW uses such components in its M3 coupe. Carbon fiber has also been used in race cars for some time.
GM has gone on record with its distaste for carbon fiber’s increased cost, but the trade-off is that it is one-quarter the weight of steel and 10 times stronger.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that using carbon fiber rather than standard materials can lower vehicle weight by up to 50 percent. Cutting vehicle weight by just 10 percent can reportedly increase fuel economy by 8 percent or more.
Finding cheaper ways to mass produce
Ford and Dow teams are currently at work to find cheaper ways to mass produce carbon fiber components. Dow’s work in materials science and polymer processing for Turkish company AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to help Ford’s cause.