Certain kinds of polymers may be useful in the near future to help reduce the weight of cars and therefore improve fuel efficiency.
Carbon fiber, or carbon-fiber reinforced polymer, is exceptionally strong and light, reports John Rosevear of The Motley Fool, but it also is expensive. Yet automobile manufacturers see the material as key to meeting increasing fuel-economy standards, without compromising passenger safety.
An agreement between Ford and Dow Chemical aims to move this goal to fruition. Researchers from both companies will focus on making carbon fiber more affordable and mass-production feasible. The partnership will combine Ford’s design and engineering capabilities with Dow’s strengths in research and development, materials sciences, and high-volume polymer processing, according to a press release from Ford.
The partnership will leverage work that Dow has begun through partnerships with Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “This partnership with Ford on carbon fiber composites is a logical next step to progress already achieved through the use of lightweight, high-strength polymers and structural bonding technology,” says Florian Schattenmann, director of Research and Development for Dow Automotive Systems.
Ford has a goal to reduce the weight of its new vehicles by 250 to 750 pounds by 2020. Although that amount may be a small percentage of a car’s total weight, it is significant because weight is one of the most important factors in fuel consumption.
Reducing weight is especially important in plug-in hybrid and electric applications. Less weight means more distance between charges, the biggest challenge facing electric car makers.
If the partnership is successful, carbon fiber components could be found in mainstream car models by the end of the decade. The companies say that the components would help standard-engine cars meet new fuel efficiency standards of more than 50 miles per gallon.
Source: “Why Ford’s New Deal is a Big Deal,” The Motley Fool, 4/13/12
Source: “Ford and Dow Team Up to Bring Low-Cost, High-Volume Carbon Fiber Composites to Next-Generation Vehicles,” Ford Motor Company press release, 4/12/12
Image by Donkervoort-A, used under its Creative Commons license.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.