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Materials

[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

NIST study suggests severe corrosion in underground gasoline storage tanks may require component replacement sooner than expected; 500K USTs in US

July 30, 2014

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Optical micrographs of severe corrosion on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors—conditions typical of underground gasoline storage tanks—after 355 hours, 643 hours, and 932 hours. Source: NIST. Click to enlarge.

In recent years, field inspectors in nine states have reported many rapidly corroding underground gasoline storage tank (UST) components such as sump pumps. These incidents are generally associated with use of gasoline-ethanol blends and the presence of bacteria, Acetobacter aceti, which convert ethanol to acetic acid, a component of vinegar. Corrosion can result in failures, leaks and contamination of groundwater, a source of drinking water.

Following up on the inspectors’ findings, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratory study has demonstrated severe corrosion—rapidly eating through 1 millimeter of wall thickness per year—on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors. Based on this finding, NIST researchers suggest gasoline stations may need to replace submersible pump casings, typically made of steel or cast iron, sooner than expected.

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Jaguar: aluminum-intensive XE will feature fuel consumption lower than 4L/100km; structure is 75% aluminum

July 29, 2014

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The aluminum body of the XE. Click to enlarge.

In the second of four technology previews leading up to the introduction of the new Jaguar XE on 8 September, Jaguar outlined its extensive use of aluminum in the new model. Designed around Jaguar’s modular vehicle architecture, the XE is the only car in the class to use an aluminum-intensive monocoque, with lightweight aluminum accounting for 75% of the structure.

The new aluminum-intensive SE will be paired with engines from the new Ingenium family of efficient diesel and gasoline engines (earlier post)—powertrains specifically designed and calibrated to complement reduced-weight vehicles. Jaguar projects that the resulting XE will achieve fuel consumption of less that 4.0 l/100 km (59 mpg US) on the NEDC combined cycle (subject to certification) and CO2 emissions of less than 100 g/km.

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SABIC’s polycarbonate rear window in Ford MMLV reduces window weight by 35%; improved thermal insulation

July 17, 2014

Among the technologies Ford incorporated into its drivable multi-material lightweight vehicle (MMLV) (earlier post) is an advanced polycarbonate (PC) glazing solution from SABIC’s Innovative Plastics business that makes possible a 35% weight reduction compared to the same window on a 2013 model year Ford Fusion production vehicle. The weight savings total 7.4 pounds (3.36 kg), even though the rear window is more than one millimeter thicker than the production glass window it replaces. The PC material has approximately half the density of glass.

The advanced PC solution used in the concept’s rear window combines LEXAN resin, a PC material characterized by its light weight, high optical clarity and impact resistance, with EXATEC E900 plasma coating for glass-like scratch and UV resistance. (The LEXAN plasma-coated windows are also used in Volkswagen’s ultra-efficient XL1 plug-in hybrid, earlier post.)

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Alcoa unveils first aluminum alloy fan blade forging for jet engines; $1.1B supply agreement w/ Pratt & Whitney

July 14, 2014

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Click to enlarge.

Under a new 10-year, $1.1-billion agreement, Alcoa will supply key parts for Pratt & Whitney’s jet engines, including the forging for the first aluminum fan blade for jet engines. The forging was developed for Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower engines using an advanced aluminum alloy and a proprietary manufacturing process. Also for the PurePower engines, Alcoa is developing a fan blade forging using its most advanced aluminum-lithium alloy.

Under the $1.1 billion deal, Alcoa will supply components for Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1000G, V2500, GP7000 and several other regional jet and military engines. The unique Geared Turbofan architecture of the PurePower engine allows for aluminum alloys to be used in the Pratt & Whitney designed fan blades, making the engine lighter, as well as more fuel and cost efficient.

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Bio-inspired gradient structure approach for delivering stronger, tougher metals

July 12, 2014

Drawing inspiration from the structure of bones and bamboo, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and North Carolina State University have found that by gradually changing the internal structure of metals to a gradient structure (GS), they can make stronger, tougher materials that can be customized for a wide variety of applications—from body armor to automobile parts.

In a pair of open access papers, one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the other in Materials Research Letters, the researchers, led by Yuntian Zhu at NC State and Xiaolei Wu at CAS, report that gradient structures in engineering materials such as metals produce an intrinsic synergetic strengthening, which is much higher than the sum of separate gradient layers; the gradient structure renders a unique extra strain hardening, which leads to high ductility.

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Researchers develop efficient technique to develop new materials with desired coefficient of friction

July 11, 2014

Researchers at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) have developed a highly efficient method for developing friction materials with a desired frictional property. Using the new method, it would be possible to find the appropriate crystal preferred orientation for coatings with the desired value of the coefficient of friction.

The method, described in a paper in the journal Tribology Letters, could thus significantly accelerate the development of materials that have a friction coefficient suited to the purpose of use, such as low-friction materials for reducing energy loss and high-friction materials required for high-performance brakes.

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European consortium investigating graphene-based materials for lightweight cars; energy-efficient and safe vehicles

June 30, 2014

The University of Sunderland (UK), working with a consortium of five other research partners from Italy, Spain and Germany, has been selected for funding by the €1-billion (US$1.4-billion) Graphene Flagship research initiative in Europe (earlier post) for their iGCAuto proposal. The researchers will explore the properties of graphene to determine how it behaves when used to enhance advanced composite materials used in the production of cars. The other partners are Centro Ricerche FIAT (Italy); Fraunhofer ICT (Germany); Interquimica (Spain); Nanesa S.r.l. (Italy); and Delta-Tech S.p.A. (Italy).

As part of the work, a novel graphene-based polymer material will be investigated, modeled, and designed to enhance both vehicle and occupant safety while remaining very light. This material will provide benefits such as improved strength, dimensional stability, and superior durability.

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LLNL/MIT team creates ultralight, ultrastiff metamaterials; possible applications for automotive and aerospace

June 20, 2014

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The new materials designed with additive manufacturing techniques exhibit high stiffness and low density, occupying a previously unpopulated area (upper left) of the Ashby material selection chart for Young’s modulus (stiffness) vs. density. The octet truss structure recently fabricated by Livermore researchers is a stretch-dominated lattice. Source: LLNL Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed materials with the same weight and density as aerogel (“frozen smoke”) but with 10,000 times more stiffness using additive micro-manufacturing processes. The research team’s findings are published in an article in the journal Science.

The micro-architected metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit mass density, even at ultralow density. This performance derives from a network of nearly isotropic microscale unit cells with high structural connectivity and nanoscale features, the structural members of which are designed to carry loads in tension or compression, the researchers said. Materials with these properties could someday be used to develop parts and components for aircraft, automobiles and space vehicles.

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The technology behind Ford’s Lightweight Concept Vehicle; prospects for Mach-II with 50% mass reduction difficult

June 18, 2014

Earlier this month, Ford unveiled its Lightweight Concept vehicle, which uses advanced materials to explore future weight-reduction solutions that could improve performance and fuel efficiency while reducing CO2 emissions. The Ford Lightweight Concept reduces the weight of a 2013 Fusion to that of a Ford Fiesta, resulting in a nearly 25% weight reduction. (Earlier post.)

The Ford vehicle is based on the first phase (Mach-I) of work of the DOE-supported Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicles project (Award DE-EE0005574) by Vehma International (an engineering and prototype division within the Cosma International operating unit of Magna) and Ford. The $20.3-million project ($10 million from DOE, $10.3 million from Vehma/Ford) has two main objectives. First, to design and build the “Mach-I” prototype vehicle maintaining donor vehicle architectural space and using commercially available or demonstrated materials and processes while delivering a 22% reduction compared to the baseline vehicle. The result of this is reflected in the Ford concept.

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Washington State/Boeing SOFC shows promise for aviation and automotive applications

June 17, 2014

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MoO2-based SOFC using a fuel mixture consisting of n-dodecane, CO2 and air. Kwon 2013. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Washington State University, with colleagues at Kyung Hee University and Boeing Commercial Airplanes, have been developing liquid hydrocarbon/oxygenated hydrocarbon-fueled solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for aviation (the “more electric” airplane) and other transportation applications, such as in cars. These fuel cells first internally—i.e., no external reformer—reform a complex liquid hydrocarbon fuel into carbon fragments and hydrogen, which are then electrochemically oxidized to produce electrical energy without external fuel processors. The SOFCs feature a MoO2 (molybdenum dioxide) anode with an interconnecting network of pores that exhibit excellent ion- and electron-transfer properties.

In a new paper in the journal Energy Technology, the team reports that this novel fuel cell, when directly fueled with a jet-A fuel surrogate (an n-dodecane fuel mixture), generated an initial maximum power density of 3 W cm-2 at 750 °C and maintained this high initial activity over 24 h with no coking. The addition of 500 ppm of sulfur into the fuel stream did not deactivate the cell.

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Ducker: automotive aluminum content to hit explosive growth from 2015 to 2025; 50 years of uninterrupted growth “guaranteed”

June 10, 2014

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NA aluminum sheet demand for auto body and closure parts. Click to enlarge.

By 2025, more than 75% of all new pickup trucks produced in North America will be aluminum-bodied, according to a survey of automakers conducted by global consulting and research firm Ducker Worldwide and commissioned by The Aluminum Association’s Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG). The study surveyed all major automakers and forecasts that Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler will become the biggest users of aluminum sheet in the next decade.

It also forecasts that the number of vehicles with complete aluminum body structures will reach 18% of North American production, from less than 1% today. Vehicle segments revealed as emerging aluminum content leaders are pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and both mid-sized and full-size sedans.

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Chrysler/McMaster lightweight materials project focusing on door side impact beam; Al and Mg casting

June 04, 2014

In October 2013, Chrysler entered a $3.9-million research project supported by the Canadian government to explore ways to leverage the weight-saving properties of aluminum and magnesium alloys for vehicle production. (Earlier post.) The primary academic partner in the project is McMaster University in Ontario, with Ryerson University and CANMET, an agency of Natural Resources Canada, as other partners in the project.

In an update on the progress of the project, Steve Logan, responsible for Advanced Lightweight Programs in Chrysler’s Materials Engineering Group, said that the team is looking at components for body and chassis, and specifically focusing on a door side impact beam.

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Ford introduces Lightweight Concept vehicle to showcase ongoing light-weighting and advanced materials work; nearly 25% weight reduction

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Ford Lightweight Concept. Click to enlarge.

Ford Motor Company unveiled its Lightweight Concept vehicle, which uses advanced materials to explore future weight-reduction solutions that could improve performance and fuel efficiency while reducing CO2 emissions. The Ford Lightweight Concept reduces the weight of a 2013 Fusion to that of a Ford Fiesta, resulting in a nearly 25% weight reduction.

The vehicle represents the latest phase of Ford’s research into developing sustainable technology solutions that are affordable for consumers and can be produced in large volumes across the product lineup. This research has also led to the significant weight reduction of up to 700 pounds (318 kg) in the all-new F-150 through the use of high-strength steel and aluminum. (Earlier post.)

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IBM Research discovers new class of industrial polymers; cheaper, lighter, stronger and recyclable thermosets for aerospace, automotive and others

May 16, 2014

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The IBM-led researchers show that the formation of a trifunctional cross-link point through reaction of a diamine and paraformaldehyde leads to a thermally stable and mechanically ductile thermoset. Low pH triggers the reversal of the thermoset architecture to the corresponding monomers. Credit: K. Zhang/Virginia Tech. Click to enlarge.

Using a novel computational chemistry hybrid approach, scientists from IBM Research have successfully discovered a new class of polymer materials—the first new class of polymers discovered in more than 20 years—that could potentially transform manufacturing and fabrication in the fields of transportation, aerospace, and microelectronics. The new family, formed by condensation of paraformaldehyde with bisanilines, can form hard thermoset polymers or, when more oxygenated, produce self-healing gels.

Developed by combining high performance computing with synthetic polymer chemistry, these new materials are the first to demonstrate resistance to cracking; strength higher than bone; and the ability to reform to their original shape (self-healing), all while being completely recyclable back to their starting material—strong acid digestion allows the recovery of the bisaniline monomers.

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BMW and SGL to triple production capacity at Moses Lake carbon fiber plant with $200M expansion; world’s largest carbon fiber plant

May 09, 2014

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A production line for carbon fiber takes the PAN precursor through two stages (stabilization/oxidation and carbonization) and then to winding. Source: SGLACF. Click to enlarge.

Due to the high demand for carbon fiber in automotive production, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, a joint venture between the BMW Group and the SGL Group, will triple the capacity of the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Washington. SGL and BMW made the announcement at the groundbreaking ceremony for the planned site expansion. The expansion will be funded by an investment of US$200 million, on top of the previously invested US$100 million.

The site expansion, scheduled to be completed by early 2015, will make the plant in Moses Lake the world’s largest carbon fiber plant. At present, the Moses Lake plant operates two production lines, exclusively for BMW i, with an annual output of approx. 3,000 tons of carbon fiber. The expansion of the site in Moses Lake will make it possible for the BMW Group to apply carbon fiber material also in other model series in the future, at competitive costs and in large quantities.

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Ames Lab researchers observe rare-earth-like magnetic properties in iron

April 29, 2014

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have observed magnetic properties typically associated with those observed in rare-earth elements in iron, albeit at cryogenic temperatures. These properties are observed in a new iron-based compound that does not contain rare earth elements, when the iron atom is positioned between two nitrogen atoms.

The discovery opens the possibility of using iron to provide both the magnetism and permanence in high-strength permanent magnets, such as those used in direct-drive wind turbines or electric motors in hybrid cars. The results appeared in Nature Communications.

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Magnesium alloy VSC Machine successfully begins trial operation at GM China Advanced Technical Center

April 04, 2014

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Magnesium alloy VSC machine. Click to enlarge.

The GM China Advanced Technical Center (ATC) in Shanghai announced the operation of its magnesium alloy Vertical Squeeze Casting (VSC) machine—the first designed for developing next-generation magnesium castings. GM said that this achievement marks a breakthrough in its lightweight materials research.

Squeeze casting is a process in which molten metal is introduced to casting cavities with minimum turbulence and then solidifies under very high pressure (typically above 100 MPa) within closed dies. The absence of turbulent metal flow, aided by the high applied pressure, can suppress gas porosity, notes Ohio State University Professor Alan Luo in a 2013 review of magnesium casting technologies.

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Heat-conducting polymer cools hot electronic devices at 200 °C; potential for automotive applications

March 31, 2014

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Scanning electron microscope image shows vertical polythiophene nanofiber arrays grown on a metal substrate. The arrays contained either solid fibers or hollow tubes, depending on the diameter of the pores used to grow them. Credit: Virendra Singh. Click to enlarge.

A team led by researchers from Georgia Tech have used an electropolymerization process to produce aligned arrays of polymer nanofibers that function as a thermal interface material able to conduct heat 20 times better than the original polymer. (Polymer materials are usually thermal insulators because the amorphous arrangement of the molecular chains reduces the mean free path of heat-conducting phonons.) The modified material can reliably operate at temperatures of up to 200 °C.

The new thermal interface material could be used to draw heat away from electronic devices in servers, automobiles, high-brightness LEDs and certain mobile devices. The material is fabricated on heat sinks and heat spreaders and adheres well to devices, potentially avoiding the reliability challenges caused by differential expansion in other thermally-conducting materials. A report on the work is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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Toyota and partners develop vehicle-to-vehicle copper recycling technology

March 25, 2014

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Sample vehicle wiring harness. Click to enlarge.

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has developed a world-first technology for recycling the copper contained in wiring harnesses, in collaboration with Yazaki Corporation (Yazaki), Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota Tsusho), and eight other companies. The newly-developed technology produces copper with a purity of 99.96%.

Roughly 40 years’ worth of mineable copper resources remain worldwide, according to a 2013 report by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC). At the same time, global consumption is growing, driven particularly by infrastructure-related demand for wiring in emerging markets. In addition, large amounts of copper are used in the motors of hybrid vehicles, which are becoming increasingly popular.

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GM uses lightweight, advanced materials to reduce weight on 2015 Colorado pickup

March 17, 2014

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Mass comparison, 4x4 crew cabs. Click to enlarge.

The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado uses engineering techniques and lightweight materials to create fuel-efficient pickup capability in a mass-efficient mid-size package. The 2015 Colorado 4x4 crew cab, which GM expects to be the most popular version of the new trucks, weighs 880 to 1,400 lbs (363 to 635 kg) less than a full-size truck. Chevrolet expects EPA fuel economy estimates for Colorado this summer.

This weight saving is a result of the slightly smaller overall dimensions of the Colorado, along with extensive use of lightweight materials, including high-strength steels and aluminum.

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President Obama announces two new public-private manufacturing innovation institutes; new manufacturing innovation institute competition

February 25, 2014

President Obama announced two new manufacturing innovation institutes led by the Department of Defense supported by a $140-million Federal commitment combined with more than $140 million in non-federal resources: (1) a Detroit-area-headquartered consortium of businesses and universities, with a focus on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing; and (2) a Chicago-headquartered consortium of businesses and universities that will concentrate on digital manufacturing and design technologies.

Obama also launched a competition for a new manufacturing innovation institute to build US strength in manufacturing advanced composites, the first of four new competitions to be launched this year.

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DOE to award up to $12M for technologies to produce renewable carbon fiber from biomass

February 04, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award (DE-FOA-0000996) up to $12 million in funding to advance the development of a cost-competitive pathway to produce high-performance carbon fiber for vehicle lightweighting from renewable non-food biomass. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by just 10% can improve fuel economy by 6% to 8%.

Carbon fiber composites are lightweight, yet strong, materials that can greatly improve vehicle fuel efficiency when incorporated into structural and non-structural components. Carbon fibers are polymers that are typically made from petroleum and natural gas feedstocks (propylene and ammonia, respectively) that react to form acrylonitrile (ACN) which is then polymerized and spun into polyacrylonitrile (PAN).

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New ceramic hollow fiber substrate for catalytic converters cuts fuel consumption, size and manufacturing costs

January 28, 2014

A new ceramic hollow fiber substrate for catalytic converters designed by Dr. Benjamin Kingsbury and colleagues at Imperial College London could cut the size and precious metal loading of the devices in automobiles while reducing fuel consumption and and manufacturing costs. Kingsbury has founded MicroTech Ceramics Ltd. as a spin-out to commercialize the technology.

The new structure can achieve a 2-3% fuel saving in engines (through the elimination of backpressure), or offer high performance cars an equivalent increase in engine power. It also enables the size of catalytic convertors to be reduced by around 50%, offering engine and exhaust system designers greater freedom. The new substrate can use up to 80% less rare metal, a development that could significantly reduce costs for vehicle manufacturers.

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Constellium and UACJ plan JV in US to produce Body-in-White aluminium sheet for the automotive industry

January 24, 2014

Constellium N.V, a global aluminum products company formerly known as Alcan Engineered Products and headquartered in Amsterdam, and UACJ Corporation (UACJ), a Japan-based global aluminum manufacturer, are joining forces with a view to supply and market aluminum Body-in-White sheet to the North American automotive industry. To achieve this goal, Constellium and UACJ, through Tri-Arrows Aluminum Inc. (TAA), (UACJ’s subsidiary with Sumitomo Corporation and Itochu Group), intend to create a joint venture company in the United States, as an equal partnership, to serve the North American market.

The JV is expected to include a continuous heat treatment and conversion line with an initial target capacity of 100,000 metric tons supplied by cold rolled coils from both partners’ rolling mills. The planned facility is designed to allow for expansion beyond 100,000 tons. The total joint investment by both parties is expected to amount to approximately $150 million.

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DOE to award $49.4M for advanced vehicle technologies research; meeting Tier 3 emissions

January 22, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award $49.4 million to projects to to accelerate research and development of new vehicle technologies. The new program-wide funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0000991) (earlier post), was announced by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the Washington Auto Show.

The funding opportunity will contains a total of 13 areas of interest in the general areas of advanced light-weighting; advanced battery development; power electronics; advanced heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems; advanced powertrains (including the ability to meet proposed EPA Tier 3 tailpipe emissions standards); and fuels and lubricants. These areas of interest apply to light, medium and heavy duty on-road vehicles.

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DOE issues $10M incubator FOA for batteries, power electronics, engines, materials, fuels and lubricants

January 18, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) issued an Incubator Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOAs) for a total of approximately $10 million. (DE-FOA-0000988)

EERE is focused on achieving well‐defined mid‐to‐long term clean energy goals for the US, and in that context has established multi‐year plans and roadmaps, with a concomitant focus of the majority of its resources on a limited number of “highest probability of success” pathways/approaches to ensure that the program initiatives are supported at a critical mass (both in terms of dollars and time) for maximum impact. While this roadmap‐based approach can be a strength, it can also create challenges in recognizing and exploring unanticipated, game changing pathways/approaches which may ultimately be superior to the pathways/approaches on the existing roadmaps.

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Ford unveils next-gen F-150; up to 700 lbs lighter, new 2.7L EcoBoost with stop-start

January 13, 2014

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2015 F-150. Click to enlarge.

Ford introduced the all-new Ford F-150 at its press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The “reinvention” of this critical vehicle for Ford features an improved fully boxed ladder frame that incorporates more high-strength steel than ever, making it stronger and lighter.

Aluminum alloys are used throughout the F-150 body for the first time, improving dent and ding resistance and also saving weight. Overall, up to 700 pounds (318 kg) of weight have been saved. As one of the four engine options, the new F-150 also offers a new 2.7L EcoBoost with standard Auto Start-Stop.

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CAR report quantifies automotive’s position as a leading high-tech industry

January 08, 2014

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Percentage of Global R&D Spending by Industry, 2013. Source: Booz & Company “Global Innovation”; Battelle R&D Magazine; Center for Automotive Research 2012. Click to enlarge.

A newly-released report by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) concludes that the automotive industry is not only “high-tech,” it is frequently a leader in technological developments and applications. The report, supported by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, measures the technological nature of today’s auto industry and compares it to other sectors of the economy often viewed as technologically advanced.

The report authors acknowledge the difficulty of defining “high-tech” in an ever-changing economic environment. After reviewing of the works of several researchers and government agencies, CAR developed a working definition to differentiate high-tech industries from other sectors. Broadly, high-tech industries generally have the following characteristics:

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Computational first-principles approach identifies dozens of new platinum-group alloys

January 07, 2014

Researchers from Duke University, Brigham Young University, and Carnegie Mellon University have used high-throughput first-principles calculations to identify dozens of platinum-group alloys (binary systems of the platinum-group metals—PGMs—with the transition metals) that were previously unknown but that could prove beneficial in a wide range of applications.

The platinum-group metals (PGMs)—osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, platinum, and palladium—play essential roles in a wide variety of industrial applications. The primary application of PGMs is in catalysis, where they are core ingredients in the chemical, petroleum, and automotive industries. Although are essential, they are also very costly.

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Ford brings cellulose fiber reinforced thermoplastic to 2014 Lincoln MKX

December 20, 2013

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Early version of CRP-based armrest piece under development. Source: Weyerhaeuser. Click to enlarge.

A three-year collaboration between Lincoln, Weyerhaeuser and auto parts supplier Johnson Controls has resulted in the creation of a tree-based, renewable alternative to fiberglass for use in auto parts. (Earlier post.) The 2014 Lincoln MKX features the use of Cellulose Reinforced Polypropylene (called “THRIVE” composites by Weyerhaeuser) in the floor console armrest substrate—a structural piece located within the center console armrest.

Pieces made from CRP are roughly 6% lighter, and decrease the reliance on less-environmentally friendly fiberglass parts. The use of Cellulose Reinforced Polypropylene in the MKX, while relatively small, marks an advancement that has the potential to play a more impactful role in the future, suggested Dr. Ellen Lee, plastics research technical expert for Ford Motor Company. Ford engineers are using the company’s development and deployment of soy-based foam as an model—i.e., starting out small, then improving the material and widening the application.

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DOE to issue FY14 Vehicle Technologies program-wide funding opportunity announcement

The Department Of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of its Vehicle Technology Office (VTO), a program-wide Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000991) for fiscal year 2014 on or about January 2014. The advance notice (DE-FOA-0001053) is to alert interested parties of the coming FOA.

The areas of interest outlined in the notice of intent (NOI) fall into two broad categories: technologies to advance plug-in electric vehicles; and technologies to improve fuel efficiency, including dual-fuel, fuel properties (e.g., high octane fuels), and advanced powertrain work.

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EnerG2 develops new carbon adsorbent material for on-board natural gas storage

December 18, 2013

EnerG2, a manufacturer of advanced carbon materials for next-generation energy storage (generally for batteries and ultracapacitors), has leveraged its polymer chemistry technologies to develop materials for adsorbed natural gas (ANG) applications. The ultra-high surface area carbon adsorbent material, which packs at optimal density and has been produced at scale, is compatible with any and all tank geometries and systems, the company says.

Currently, natural gas vehicles are fitted with on-board fuel tanks that are too large, cumbersome, and expensive to properly facilitate the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles in the US and globally. Additionally, the low volumetric density of natural gas (~30% less energy by volume than gasoline) limits range, and makes cost-effective storage solutions a significant challenge. One possible solution is adsorbed storage; the interest is so keen, that ARPA-E awarded a combined $10.875 million in 2012 to four different projects (led by Ford, GTI, Texas A&M and SRI) to develop new sorbent materials for on-board natural gas storage. (Earlier post.)

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SMDI design study produces twist beam concept that reduces mass ~30% relative to baseline assembly

December 06, 2013

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Twist beam assembly mass comparison. Click to enlarge.

Results of a new design study for a lightweight steel proof-of-concept twist beam (used in suspensions) by the Steel Market Development Institute’s (SMDI) Automotive Applications Council indicate that the preferred U-Beam Design based on 22MnB5 tubular construction with DP780 and SPFH540 sheet achieves a 30.0% mass reduction relative to the baseline assembly, at a 12–15% premium in manufacturing cost at production volumes of 30,000 to 250,000 vehicles per year, respectively.

An S-Beam Design based on 22MnB5 sheet, DP780 tube and HSLA550 materials was predicted to have a 14.9% mass reduction relative to the baseline assembly. The objective of the study was to develop a twist beam design achieving a 15–25% mass reduction with equivalent structural and elasto-kinematic performance relative to the baseline design at a ≤ 10% cost premium.

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New simple aluminum-based hydride for hydrogen storage

November 11, 2013

Japanese researchers report the development of a simple-structured, aluminum-based interstitial hydride for hydrogen storage in a paper in the AIP Publishing journal APL Materials. Their compound, Al2CuHx, was synthesized by hydrogenating Al2Cu at an extreme pressure of 10 gigapascals (1.5 million pounds per square inch) and a high temperature of 800 °C (1,500 °F).

Lightweight interstitial hydrides with high hydrogen content—such as Mg-based hydrides, alanates, borohydrides, and amino boranes—have been proposed as a safe and efficient means for storing hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, but so far, none have proven practical as a hydrogen repository.

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JRC study finds 8 metals for low-carbon energy technologies at risk of shortages; EVs, wind and solar, and lighting the applications of most concern

November 04, 2013

A new European Joint Research Centre (JRC) study looking into the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of low-carbon energy technologies found that eight metals were at high risk of shortages. The applications, i.e. technologies, of particular concern as a result are electric vehicles, wind and solar energy, and lighting. The risk arises from EU dependency on imports, growing demand worldwide and geopolitical reasons.

The study builds on a 2011 effort which looked into the six key applications of the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan: wind, solar, nuclear fission, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the electricity grid. In the new study, these were re-assessed and considered along with 11 other technologies—including fuel cells, electricity storage, electric vehicles and lighting—treated in the new report, this time evaluated on the expected supplies of the metals and not on the current situation as in the first report.

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Canada awards $30M to 10 automotive R&D projects; from electrified powertrains to hot stamping

October 28, 2013

The Government of Canada has awarded C$30 million (US$29 million) through the Automotive Partnership Canada (APC) initiative to 10 university-industry partnerships to advance innovative automotive technologies. With a total project value of more than C$52 million (US$50 million), the funding includes some $22 million from industry and other partners.

The largest award from APC is $8,928,200 to the McMaster University-Chrysler partnership (earlier post) for the development of next generation electrified powertrains. (Earlier post.) However, the selected projects include a range of technologies from hot stamping of parts to hydrogen fuel cell stacks.

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Volvo Car Group testing lightweight structural energy storage material applied in trunk lid and plenum cover

October 17, 2013

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A composite blend of carbon fibers and polymer resin is being developed that can store and charge more energy faster than conventional batteries can. Volvo Cars is the only car manufacturer participating in the EU-funded project, which started in early 2010. Click to enlarge.

Volvo Car Group—the only automaker participating in a 3.5-year EU-funded project developing a prototype material which can store and discharge electrical energy and which is also strong and lightweight enough to be used for car parts (earlier post)—has created two components for the testing and further development of the technology. These are a trunk lid and a plenum cover, tested within the Volvo S80.

The material combines carbon fibers and a polymer resin, creating a very advanced nanomaterial, and structural supercapacitors. The material can be moulded and formed to fit around the car’s frame in locations such as the door panels, the trunk lid and wheel bowl, substantially saving on space.

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New thermoplastic-graphene nanoribbon composite could offer lighter, more effective natural gas storage for vehicles

October 11, 2013

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An electron microscope image shows graphene nanoribbons embedded in a block copolymer. Image by Changsheng Xiang. Click to enlarge.

A new composite material created at Rice University is nearly impervious to gas and may lead to lighter and more efficient storage of compressed natural gas for vehicles. By adding modified, single-atom-thick hexadecyl-functionalized low-defect graphene nanoribbons (HD-GNRs) to thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), the Rice lab of chemist James Tour made the resulting material far more impermeable to pressurized gas and far lighter than the metal in tanks now used to contain the gas.

In an open access paper in the journal ACS Nano, Tour and his colleagues at Rice and in Hungary, Slovenia and India reported that nitrogen gas effective diffusivity of the TPU was decreased by three orders of magnitude with only 0.5 wt% GNRs.

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Chrysler Group files S-1 for IPO; snapshot of R&D priorities; exploring a light-duty hydraulic hybrid

September 24, 2013

Chrysler Group LLC has filed a registration statement on Form S-1 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) relating to a proposed initial public offering of common shares. Details of the offering—i.e., number of shares and price range—are yet to be determined.

However, the document not only provides a detailed look at the finances of the company, it also provides a quick recap of recent technology developments and some insight into the company’s immediate research priorities. Chrysler writes that its has “made the development of more fuel-efficient vehicles a priority to meet retail consumer preferences, comply with future regulations and as part of our commitment to sustainability.

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ORNL study finds aluminum-intensive vehicles can deliver up to 29% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to typical steel-bodied vehicle

September 20, 2013

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Lifecycle energy findings. Source: Sujit Das, ORNL. Click to enlarge.

A lifecycle study of aluminum-intensive vehicles by Sujit Das at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) found that an aluminum-intensive vehicle can achieve up to a 32% reduction in total lifecycle energy consumption, and up to a 29% reduction in CO2 emissions, compared to a typical vehicle on the road today which uses traditional and high-strength steel in the body construction.

The study, underwritten by The Aluminum Association, performed a full cradle-to-grave analysis (primary metal production; autoparts manufacturing and assembly; use; semi-fabrication material production; transportation; and end-of-life metals recycling) on three modeled vehicle types: a baseline steel vehicle; a lightweight steel vehicle (LWSV); and an aluminum intensive vehicle (AIV).

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ARPA-E selects 33 projects for $66M in awards; advanced biocatalysts for gas-to-liquids and lightweight metals

September 19, 2013

The US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding around $66 million to 33 projects under two new programs. One program, Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE, earlier post), provides $34 million to 15 projects to find advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation.

The other program, Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-metal Systems (METALS, earlier post), provides $32 million to 18 projects to find cost-effective and energy-efficient manufacturing techniques to process and recycle metals for lightweight vehicles. The funding opportunity announcements for both programs were released earlier this year in March.

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Jaguar announces new advanced aluminium monocoque architecture; C-X17 concept

September 09, 2013

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The C-X17 concept is the first revealed implementation of the new iQ[Al] architecture. Click to enlarge.

Along with the unveiling of its C-X17 concept car on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show, Jaguar announced a new advanced aluminium monocoque architecture. The C-X17 concept sports crossover is a study to demonstrate the capabilities of this new architecture.

Codenamed iQ[Al], the architecture will form the basis for a new range of future Jaguars, the company said; the first product will be a mid-size premium C/D segment sedan on sale in 2015. This will be the first aluminium monocoque product in the segment. Using the new architecture, Jaguar expects to deliver vehicles with class-leading performance, including top speeds of more than 300 km/h (186 mph), and emissions lower than 100g of CO2 per km.

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DOE awards $45M to 38 advanced transportation technology projects; $3M from the Army

September 04, 2013

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award more than $45 million to 38 new projects that accelerate the research and development of advanced vehicle technologies. Through the Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Alliance between the Energy Department and the Department of the Army, the Army is contributing an additional $3 million in co-funding to support projects focused on lightweighting and propulsion materials, batteries, fuels, and lubricants.

The 38 projects span five major areas: advanced lightweighting and propulsion materials; advanced batteries; power electronics; fuels and lubricants; and efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

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Integral Technologies and BASF jointly to explore North American market for automotive applications of Electriplast conductive thermoplastics

August 28, 2013

Integral Technologies, Inc. and wholly owned subsidiary ElectriPlast Corp. (earlier post) signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with BASF Corporation jointly to explore the North American market for ElectriPlast’s conductive thermoplastics.

BASF and ElectriPlast will jointly explore the potential to utilize ElectriPlast materials as a lightweight solution for applications requiring electrical shielding, while reducing weight to help meet CAFE requirements initially targeting a broad array of automotive applications. ElectriPlast is non-corrosive and weather-resistant.

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ORNL finding on surface properties of complex oxides films could lead to better batteries and catalysts

August 14, 2013

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Fudan University, have discovered that key surface properties of complex oxide films are unaffected by reduced levels of oxygen during fabrication—an unanticipated finding with possible implications for the design of functional complex oxides.

The discovery, which may result in better batteries, catalysts, electronic information storage and processing devices, is reported in a paper published in the RSC journal Nanoscale.

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Researchers demonstrate that bottom-up self-assembly of active materials for batteries can improve performance

August 10, 2013

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Cycle performances of MIONCs, RAIONs, and CBIOs at a current density of 0.1 A g−1. Credit: ACS, Lee et al. Click to enlarge.

A team in South Korea has developed a bottom-up self-assembly approach for the preparation of mesoporous iron oxide (Fe3O4) nanoparticle clusters (MIONCs) for use as an anode material in Li-ion batteries. The unique structure endowed the MIONCs with enhanced capacity retention, rate capability, and Coulombic efficiency, the researchers reported in a paper published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

More importantly, they noted, the work showed that changing the geometric configuration of the material can result in stable battery performance through the confinement of SEI (solid−electrolyte interphase) layer formation. They suggested that their strategy can be considered a model framework and applied to other metal oxide nanoparticles (NPs) such as Co3O4 and NiO with high specific capacities. These findings further confirm that bottom-up self-assembly of active materials can improve battery performance, they concluded.

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BMW Group presents prototype of i8 plug-in hybrid; first use of new 3-cylinder engine

August 07, 2013

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Prototype BMW i8 at the track. Click to enlarge.

BMW i presented a prototype of its second production vehicle, the i8 (earlier post), at a driving event at the BMW Group’s Miramas test track in France. Following the world debut of the first production model, the battery-electric urban-focused BMW i3 (earlier post), the BMW Group’s next step will be to address the sports car segment with the plug-in hybrid BMW i8. The BMW i8 will make its world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month and arrive in BMW showrooms in 2014.

Calculated using the EU test cycle for plug-in hybrid vehicles, the average fuel efficiency of the BMW i8 at model launch will be less than 2.5 liters/100 km, which equates to approximately 95 miles per US gallon, with CO2 emissions of less than 59 grams per kilometer.

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EDAG study finds NanoSteel sheet steels can achieve up to 30% weight reduction in automotive structures

August 05, 2013

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NanoSteel body-in-white using the three grades of steel. Click to enlarge.

The NanoSteel Company released the results of an automotive light-weighting study it had commissioned from EDAG, Inc., an independent engineering firm, demonstrating the potential for the company’s Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) (earlier post) to enable a 30% reduction of weight in the BIW (body-in-white) structure of a baseline mass-market sedan.

EDAG used methodology in the study consistent with recent similar studies, including NHTSA’s “Light Weight Vehicle (LWV)” study in 2012, and WorldAutoSteel’s “Future Steel Vehicle” design in 2011. The NHTSA LWV study was a comprehensive redesign of the 2011 Honda Accord that met North American competitive targets for safety and other significant vehicle attributes while optimizing for weight savings. EDAG duplicated the criteria and methods used then have been duplicated in that study to investigate NanoSteel’s materials.

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New high-temperature ceramic capacitor could reduce cooling needs in power electronics for hybrids and EVs

August 02, 2013

Scientists from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK have developed a new lead-free, high-temperature ceramic capacitor that could improve the efficiency and reliability of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Hybrid and electric vehicles rely on high efficiency power conversion and management, with automotive power electronics representing an emerging £40-billion (US$61-billion) global market, NPL noted. The power electronics found in vehicles today require cooling because of limitations in the temperature rating of components such as capacitors, which are used to store electrical energy. This is a disadvantage as the extra cooling systems add weight to the vehicles, reducing efficiency and reliability.

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