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.

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