Materials to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient

Titanium could become a lot cheaper and more commonly used. A non-melt consolidation process being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and industry partners could reduce the amount of energy required and the cost to make titanium parts from powders by up to 50 percent, making it feasible to use titanium alloys for brake rotors, artificial
joint replacements, space vehicles and military vehicles.

Carbon fiber production is increasing. However, if 600kg of carbon fiber was needed per car then 60 million cars would need 36 million tons of production of advanced material per year. So advanced material production would need to increase over 300 times to reach the levels needed to replace steel.

Toray Industries Inc. will build the world’s biggest carbon fiber plant to meet growing demand from the aircraft, automobiles and other industries, company officials said Friday.

The new plant, to be located in Masaki, Ehime Prefecture, southwestern Japan, is slated to begin operations as early as 2010 with an annual capacity of 4,000 tons, the sources said.

By the end of 2012, Toray’s annual carbon fiber output capacity will increase 1.7-fold from the current level to more than 30,000 tons.

The Nikkei reported that Toray Industries Inc., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. will work together to develop a new carbon fiber material for use in auto bodies, with the goal of developing mass-market carbon fiber cars.

The group aims to establish mass production technology for the new material by the mid-2010s. By replacing most of the steel used in cars, they hope to develop vehicles up to 40% lighter than their steel counterparts.

Carbon fiber boasts one-quarter the weight of iron, but is 10 times as strong. High prices have been a major obstacle to the widespread use of carbon fiber in cars: 1 kg of carbon fiber costs several thousand yen, compared with slightly more than 100 yen for steel and 300-400 yen for aluminum. As steel prices will likely continue rising, in part because of increasing market dominance by the three top iron ore
mining companies, the price gap between steel and carbon fiber is expected to narrow over time. Unlike steel, carbon fiber has significant room for increases in production.

Steel accounts for about three-quarters of the average car weight in Japan of around 1,350 kg (2,976 lbs). Using carbon fiber to replace steel in key parts could cut vehicle weight by up to 40%, to slightly above an average 800 kg (1,800 lbs). This could improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide by approximately 30% per car.

Graphene enhanced plastics

Carbon nanotube production is being scaled up.