Green Operations

DOE Invests in Lighter, Stronger Vehicle Materials to Help Boost Fuel Economy

August 15, 2012

WASHINGTON – On Aug. 13, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced seven new projects to accelerate the development and deployment of stronger and lighter materials for the next generation of American-made cars and trucks. These projects include the development and validation of modeling tools to deliver higher performing carbon fiber composites and advanced steels, as well as research into new lightweight, high-strength alloys for energy-efficient vehicle and truck engines.

The new projects announced will help provide additional technologies and innovations that will enable manufacturers to continue to improve vehicle fuel efficiency beyond the regulated levels. Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with lightweight materials – including advanced high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum, and carbon fiber composites – allows vehicle manufacturers to include additional safety devices, integrated electronic systems and emissions control equipment on vehicles without increasing their weight. Using lighter materials also reduces a vehicle’s fuel consumption. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by just 10 percent can improve the fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The new investments announced support materials innovation in two critical areas:

Improving Carbon Fiber Composites and Advanced Steel through Computational Design. The Energy Department will award two projects to validate existing modeling tools to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of carbon fiber and other specialized composite materials for vehicle body, chassis and interior uses. For example, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, based in Richland, Wash., is receiving a $1 million investment to validate carbon fiber composite models.

Additionally, the Department is investing $6 million to develop new modeling tools to advance third-generation high-strength steels. Through this project, Detroit-based United States Automotive Materials Partnership will leverage an additional $2.5 million in private investment to help create modeling tools for deploying high-strength steels for lighter passenger vehicles.

Advanced Alloy Development for Automotive and Heavy-Duty Engines.  The new investment also includes four projects that will develop lightweight, high-strength alloys for automotive and heavy duty engine blocks and cylinder heads. For instance, Caterpillar Inc, based near Peoria, Ill., is leveraging a $3.4 million Energy Department award, as well as $1.5 million in private investment, to develop high-strength iron-based alloys to allow for higher cylinder pressures and increased engine efficiency.

Read the full list of awards HERE.

The Energy Department will provide $8 million this year for these awards, and has requested an additional $13.75 million next year, subject to congressional appropriations, to support the completion of these projects over the next two to four years.  The Department’s investments are leveraging an additional $11 million from the private sector. These projects support the Materials Genome Initiative, an effort announced by President Obama to double the speed and cut the cost of discovering, developing, and deploying new high-tech materials in the United States.

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