Ford, Boeing and Northwestern University Collaborate on Nanotech Materials Work

07 February 2007

Ford Motor Company is collaborating with Boeing and Northwestern University on nanotechnology research focused on lighter weight metals and plastics with greater strength to improve the safety and fuel economy of its vehicles.

The three announced their intention to form a research partnership for commercial applications of nanotechnology in October 2005. While the initial focus of the collaboration is nanotechnology, other potential research areas include specialty metals, thermal materials, coatings, and sensors.

Ford is now using the Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) housed at Northwestern—one of only four such tools in North America—to cut in half the amount of time it takes to analyze the molecular makeup of metals and plastics and determine ways to tailor the material to make lighter weight and more durable parts.

The stronger and lighter structural materials under investigation use nanoparticles as fillers that reduce weight and increase strength. Examples include making aluminum castings—such as engine blocks—stronger and better performing or paints and glass that block the sun’s infrared radiation and clean themselves of dirt and grime.

In addition, Ford is developing nanofluids, which involves dispersing nano-scale particles into vehicle liquids, such as coolants and engine oil, lubricants and transmission fluids. Ford scientists found that sprinkling nanoparticles into these liquids reduces friction and increases thermal conductivity, both of which allow the liquid to operate at lower temperatures.

The nanotechnology alliance between Ford and Boeing is the latest development in an 11-year relationship. Other areas in which the two have collaborated include:

• Human factors modeling;
• Aluminum bonding;
• Aerodynamic development;
• Rapid prototyping; and
• Testing.

Ford and Boeing also have committed to a technology exchange program.

In 2005, Ford and Northwestern University dedicated a new $30 million engineering center on the school’s campus in Evanston, Illinois. Ford provided a$10 million grant to build the new “Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center” as part of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science facility.

It looks like Ford will need a hail-Mary technological pass in the last minute to survive. I notice that they are involved with MIT in the development of carbon nanotubule capacitors. The only way I can see them regaining stature is with a PHEV or CapEV mid sized affordable family sedan within two to three years. Now there's a long shot.

Actauly outside the us ford is doing rather well so is gm.

It is interesting to look at the domestic manufacturers' lineups outside of the U.S. They are actually quite attractive and their international sales are doing well. Ironic, no?

...GM already tried to bring over one of their Holden vehicles from Australia to the US but it didn't sell as well as they hoped.

Unfortunately, the Ford release is somewhat technically inaccurate. There are more than four LEAPs in North America (Sandia, Oakridge, Iowa State, University of North Texas, and Seagate each have one & there are more with the manufacturer (Imago Scientific, based in Madison)).

Also, the LEAP hasn't been used to study plastics very much. Until recently, electrical voltage had to be pulsed, meaning any non-conductive specimens were very difficult to run. Now, a laser can be used instead. But atom probes lose about half of all atoms ionized and don't have the precise structural resolution that would lend much information to the study of polymers. This isn't to say that it hasn't been done (or that it won't improve in the future), just that it is still a technological challenge.

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