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

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.

Different types of potential applications of graphene-based materials in lightweight autos. Source: University of Sunderland. Click to enlarge.

The automotive industry is widely viewed as being the industry in which the greatest volume of advanced composite materials will be used in the future to produce light vehicles. However, due to the trade-off between light vehicles and safety standards, new directions need to be adopted to overcome safety issues. Several attempts have been made to strengthen the vehicle’s structure to enhance its crashworthiness, however, safety issues remain the main obstacle to producing lighter and greener cars, the iGCAuto partners note.

From some recent experiments and numerical simulations, it has been clarified that the impact resistance and crashworthiness optimization studies of advanced composites components remain at an early stage. A large amount of work remains to be done to develop a practical, reliable and capable tool to analyze and design the new graphene-based polymer composites and study the crashworthiness optimisation for its structures and their applications in the automotive industry.

iGCAuto intends to address the gap between light vehicles and safety through the establishment of a high-level, enduring collaboration. The project brings together the necessary expertise to develop novel graphene-based polymer composite materials and to then assess and predict their safety behavior and long-term performance under severe conditions (i.e. crashworthiness, fatigue, etc.). This enhanced understanding will inform asset owners and managers and lead to improved design strategies.

Professor Ahmed Elmarakbi, a Professor of Automotive Engineering at Sunderland’s Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, initiated the idea and wrote the Graphene Flagship proposal and will drive the project forward over the next 18 months. (Prof. Elmarakbi is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Automotive Composites.)

The global automotive industry is currently facing great challenges, such as CO2 emissions and safety issues. The development and manufacture of environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient, and safe vehicles (EESVs) is a great solution to these challenges. Our goal is that the future EESVs is achieved by a combination of novel materials concepts with safety design approaches through the development and optimisation of advanced ultra-light graphene-based polymer materials, efficient fabrication and manufacturing processes, and life-cycle analysis (LCA) to reduce the environmental impact of the vehicle.

The development of novel graphene-based materials and their potential applications in the automotive industry are the main focus of the iGCAuto project. Using graphene-based materials in the fabrication of nanocomposites with different polymer matrices will be investigated, modelled, and designed to enhance both vehicle and occupant safety; yet remain very light. This material will provide benefits such as improved strength, dimensional stability and better thermal behavior, better flame behavior (active as flame retardant and for reducing the emission of smoke), and superior durability.

There will be challenges with this project, the issue is not only producing graphene-based products, the issue is applying them on a large-scale in cars. To achieve this, we have formed a consortium which comprises some of the best researchers in graphene materials and vehicle light-weighting in the world. The grant opportunity allows the consortium to aim to deliver fundamental solutions to the key challenges faced by the future development of EESVs. A key part of our project is building strong collaborations with world-class researchers who will be able to develop, understand and predict the behavior of the new graphene composites. Such a predictive ability will be a big step forward in bringing graphene composites to real-world automotive applications.

—Prof. Elmarakbi

Graphene Flagship. The Graphene Flagship announced that it is doubling in size; 66 new partners are being invited to join the consortium following the results of a €9-million (US$12.3 -million) competitive call. While most partners are universities and research institutes, the share of companies, mainly SMEs, involved is increasing. The partnership now includes more than 140 organisations from 23 countries

The 66 new partners come from 19 countries, six of which are new to the consortium: Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Israel.

With its 16 new partners, Italy now has the highest number of partners in the Graphene Flagship alongside Germany (with 23 each), followed by Spain (18), UK (17) and France (13).

The €9-million competitive call of the €54-million (US$74-million) ramp-up phase (2014-2015) attracted a total of 218 proposals, representing 738 organisations from 37 countries. The proposals received were evaluated on the basis of their scientific and technological expertise, implementation and impact and ranked by an international panel of leading experts, mostly eminent professors from all over the world. 21 proposals were selected for funding.



Why not.

As usual, many will claim that we should stay with lower cos,t heavier, rusting steel parts and components and change vehicle every 5 years or so instead of every 20+ years.

Many will even claim that we need throw-away vehicles to maintain jobs etc.

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