U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Vehicle Technologies Office
|Carbon fiber composites
|Aluminum and Al matrix composites
|Glass fiber composites
|Advanced high strength steel
|High strength steel
Research and development into lightweight materials is essential for lowering their cost, increasing their ability to be recycled, enabling their integration into vehicles, and maximizing their fuel economy benefits.
The Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) works to improve these materials in four ways:
- Increasing understanding of the materials themselves through modeling and computational materials science
- Improving their properties (such as strength, stiffness, and ductility)
- Improving their manufacturing (material cost, production rate, or yield)
- Developing alloys of advanced materials
In the short term, replacing heavy steel components with materials such as high-strength steel, aluminum, or glass fiber-reinforced polymer composites can decrease component weight by 10-60 percent. Scientists already understand the properties of these materials and the associated manufacturing processes. Researchers are working to lower their cost and improve the processes for joining, modeling, and recycling these materials.
In the longer term, advanced materials such as magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced composites could reduce the weight of some components by 50-75 percent. The Office is working to increase our knowledge of these materials' chemical and physical properties and reduce their cost.
Further developing advanced materials requires increasing our understanding of their composition and morphology. While past research used physical experiments to better understand conventional steel and aluminum, computational materials science can speed up the process by simulating experiments. Computational materials science should bring advanced materials like magnesium into the market much faster than materials in the past. Researchers can also use computational approaches to create vehicle designs that maximize these materials' potential.
To improve these tools, VTO works with the Materials Genome Initiative, an interagency effort that supports reducing the time needed to develop advanced materials and structures through integrated computation, experimentation, and data. Work supported by VTO has developed computational tools that enabled improvements in joining methods, corrosion prevention, and predictive models. This work builds a foundation for improving lightweight materials in both the short and long-term.
The Materials subprogram hosted a Lightweight and Propulsion Materials workshop in March 2011 in Dearborn, Michigan to understand industry's needs and technology gaps. These reports serve as a benchmark of current state-of-the-art technologies as well as technical goals in these areas.