Future Cars Grow Lean on Diet of Light Materials

Future Cars Grow Lean on Diet of Light Materials
Posted by FoM on October 25, 1999 at 06:57:31 PT
Source: Environment News
Industrial hemp is a strong natural fiber that can be used to make lightweight automobile parts. Industrial hemp is is being blended with resins and other synthetic fibers to make light weight automotive parts. 
Innovative, lightweight materials could help shape the cars of tomorrow into more efficient, cleaner running machines. Some of the materials, like aluminum, are familiar in other forms; others involve natural fibers that might seem more at home on the farm. In addition, vehicle developers are focusing increasingly on ability to recycle vehicle components at the end of their useful lives. In Britain, a socially responsible car that is safe, light weight and environmentally friendly is being made possible through the development of advanced, high strength steels and world class design innovation. British Steel's Frank Walker told the British Association Festival of Science in Sheffield in September that 35 steel companies from all over the world are working together with Porsche to design and manufacture an ultra-light steel autobody that could revolutionize the future of steel design and manufacturing. In the United States, the public-private sector Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), established in 1993 with goal of developing vehicles with up to three times the fuel economy of conventional cars, is one group working to build cars with lighter, stronger materials that will increase fuel economy. The less fuel per mile a vehicle requires, the fewer pollutants it will produce. Through the PNGV materials technical team, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors, in collaboration with the national labs, universities and suppliers, are working to dramatically reduce vehicle weight as compared to today's midsize family sedans. This could allow PNGV vehicles to achieve the PNGV goal of up to three times the fuel efficiency - up to 80 miles per gallon - of today's vehicles. Through PNGV, the three automakers are pursuing advanced powertrain options, such as fuel cells, to meet this fuel efficiency goal. One of the engineering challenges is to overcome their increased weight and complexity as compared to conventional powertrains. To compensate the automakers must reduce the weight of other vehicle components. Without a reduction of about 40 percent in the total weight of the car, the 80 mile per gallon fuel economy target cannot be reached, the PNGV reports. Much of PNGV’s research involves material options for the vehicle bodies, such as steel, aluminum and various kinds of composites. Every component and part, even fasteners, is being scrutinized for potential weight reductions. Some PNGV partners have decades of experience with lightweight body and component designs - for example, the Chevrolet Corvette has been made of lightweight fiberglass composites since the early 1950s. But the most difficult challenges are reducing the cost of materials themselves and manufacturing the lightweight parts affordably. According to Andy Sherman, chairman of the PNGV materials technical team, "Most of the steel used for automotive applications costs well under $.50 per pound, while most product forms of aluminum and magnesium cost more than $1 per pound and extremely lightweight titanium and carbon fiber are more than $8 per pound. Furthermore, manufacturing processes will have to be improved or developed to fabricate lightweight parts and components of these materials affordably and quickly." In June, leaders of the automotive and aluminum industries unveiled an alliance to promote research collaboration to accelerate the use of aluminum in motor vehicles. Speaking at the Automotive Hall of Fame, John Fillion, chairman of USAMP and a senior manager at DaimlerChrysler, said, "This Alliance will create new opportunities for the automotive and aluminum industries to identify and address core technical issues to further aluminum's ability to help automakers provide consumers with safe, affordable and environmentally enhanced cars and light trucks." The Audi A12, a concept high efficiency car, uses an aluminum body and a transparent plastic roof to create an extremely lightweight vehicle. The car weighs only 1,786 pounds (810 kilograms) - about 550 pounds (250 kilograms) less than if it had been built with a conventional steel body. Yet the car still performs well in strength and crash tests. The concept car was displayed this summer at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as part of an exhibit called "Different Roads: Automobiles for the Next Century." Automotive researchers also are interested in other new materials that offer environmental advantages because they are made from renewable, nontoxic resources. Michigan based G&L Universal, LLC, is producing seat back panels for the model year 2000 Cadillac DeVille, using a new, environmentally friendly material called Thermal Plastic Composite (TPC). The panels are the first such automotive components for the North American automotive market based on TPC, a blend of polypropylene plastic and recycled wood fiber. Kafus Bio-Composites is creating automobile components like door panels and trunk liners from kenaf fibers. Kenaf is a fiber crop related to cotton and okra. Kafus natural fiber composites are designed as an alternative to traditional composite materials such as fiberglass reinforced plastics. Marketed as Flexform mats and panels, Kafus’ bio-composites can be recovered, reused and recycled. The use of natural fiber composite panels reduces the molding time of 3-D parts, lower production emissions of toxic volatile organic compounds, and reduce vehicle weight. In January, Kafus signed an agreement with Ford Motor Company and Visteon Automotive Systems to develop mats and panel products made from a combination of kenaf and other natural fibers. "By combining various polymers with kenaf fiber from our fields in South Texas, we can produce stronger, lighter and safer components for the automobile industry," said David Agneta, Kafus Bio-Composites president. "Automotive customers are looking for 'green' products and Visteon takes environmental stewardship and customer service seriously," added Stephen Delaney, vice president of interior systems for Visteon. "Natural fiber composites offer weight savings, performance enhancements and remarkable recycling capabilities." Industrial hemp is a strong natural fiber that can be used to make lightweight automobile parts. Industrial hemp is is being blended with resins and other synthetic fibers to make light weight automotive parts. At the 1998 Detroit Auto Show, an Ontario company, Kenex, showed how the hemp it grows can be made into door panels and headliners, sound and thermal insulators, composite mouldings, interior panels, matting, floor coverings, and truck liners. Hemp is ecologically friendly, non-toxic, light weight for greater fuel efficiency, and offers a high tensile strength. It is biodegradable, impact resistant while meeting safety and quality standards, and is low abrasion, making it worker and equipment friendly. Recycling is a big part of the green trend in automotive materials, but even conventional cars are largely recycled these days. In 1993, USCAR began a study into the life cycle of the automobile. Completing the study this year, the group produced a quantitative database of information regarding all the resources used to make, operate and dispose of a generic 3200-pound vehicle - and their potential effects on the environment. "The data have been organized in a specially designed software model for the vehicle, which is the most detailed model of an entire vehicle life cycle existing today," according to GM's Ron Williams, current chairman of the project's technical committee. The life cycle inventory (LCI) quantifies information like the amount of energy used to extract raw material from the earth, plant and vehicle emissions, the amount of fuel consumed over a vehicle's life, and end of vehicle life recycling and disposal. The report found that most of the energy consumed by a vehicle comes during its drivable use, not during its manufacture or disposal, making fuel efficiency the most important area to target for energy reductions. The material production and manufacturing phases contribute 13 percent of the consumed energy, 65 percent of the particulate emissions, 68 percent of the solid waste, and 90 percent of the metal waste to water. The end of life phase contributes only seven percent of the total life cycle solid waste, primarily as automotive shredder residue. In fact, the automobile tops the list of recycled consumer products in the U.S., with the average recycling rate being close to 98 percent for more than ten years. Steel is the engine that drives automotive recycling. Most cars reaching the end of their useful lives are two thirds steel and iron, and nearly 100 percent of that metal is being recycled back into new iron and steel products. "For years, research has indicated that people mistakenly perceived aluminum beverage cans and newspapers as being the most recycled consumer products," explained Bill Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute, "It appears as though the automobile is finally getting its due." October 21, 1999© Environment News Service (ENS) 1999
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Comment #1 posted by Grazia on February 05, 2001 at 05:54:05 PT:
Natural fiber composites
Dear Sirs,we are currently performing a research project on natural fiber composites for automative applications.We will appreciate very much to receive information on this topic.Sincerely yours,Grazia Moreschi ****************************************Materials Science and Technology University of Perugia Loc. Pentima Bassa, 05100, Terni, ITALYTel: (39) 0744 492939, (39) 0744 492903, Fax: (39) 0744 492925Email: material*****************************************
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