Energy Department Invests in Materials for Vehicle Fuel Economy

August 15, 2012

The Energy Department on August 7 announced it awarded $8 million for seven new projects to create stronger and lighter materials for the next generation of U.S. vehicles. 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 projects in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, and Washington will help provide additional technologies and innovations that will enable manufacturers to continue to improve vehicle fuel efficiency beyond the regulated levels. Advanced materials are essential for boosting the fuel economy of cars and trucks while maintaining and improving safety and performance. 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.

The new investments support materials innovation in two critical areas. The first area has two projects designed to improve carbon fiber composites and advanced steel through computational design. For example, the department is investing $6 million to develop new modeling tools to advance third-generation high-strength steels. Through this project, United States Automotive Materials Partnership, based in Detroit, Michigan, will leverage an additional $2.5 million in private investment to help create modeling tools for deploying high-strength steels for lighter passenger vehicles. The second area is advanced alloy development for automotive and heavy-duty engines. Caterpillar Inc., based near Peoria, Illinois, is leveraging an Energy Department award of $3.4 million, 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. See the Energy Department press release and the complete project list PDF.