March 06, 2006

bulk material: Carbon fiber for cars

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is trying to get commercial-grade carbon fiber to the a price between $3 and $5 per pound. (It is $8-10 per pound now). At the target price, it would become feasible for automakers to use more than a million tons of composites - approximately 300 pounds of composites per vehicle - annually in the manufacturing of cars. The big advantage of carbon fiber is that it is one-fifth the weight of steel yet just as strong and stiff, which makes it ideal for structural or semi-structural components in automobiles. Replacing half the ferrous metals in current automobiles could reduce a vehicle's weight by 60 percent and fuel consumption by 30 percent, according to some studies. The resulting gains in fuel efficiency, made in part because smaller engines could be used with lighter vehicles, would also reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions by 10 percent to 20 percent.


Oz said...

While I greatly admire the enthusiasm for Carbon Fibre composites shown in your post. I feel that the views are somewhat utopian. Might I point out that the automotive industry has been using ‘lightweight’ materials such as polymers, Aluminium, Magnesium and Fibre Composites for many years. So when I read once again of amazing weight savings such as 60%, I find myself laughing, or is that crying? Year on year the weight of the car has simply been increasing. So no matter what material advances are made, manufacturers will design heavier and heavier cars, filling them with more and more ‘safety’ features and gizmos most of us don’t need or even know exist. Perhaps I should illustrate.. Who needs a device to automatically sense and operate the wipers? I’m sure the human behind the wheel is still the best device in the vehicle for deciding when to clear his view of raindrops. Yet these devices are now being fitted to vehicles.
So the end result of more Carbon Fibre being used in the manufacture of cars? Certainly not the weight savings predicted.. We will be lucky of the average car weight remains static for a year or two. What we will get is more and more unnecessary technology, and sadly not more efficient cars..