U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Vehicle Technologies Office
Lightweight Materials Short-Term Applied Research: Advanced High-Strength Steel and Aluminum
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.
Advanced High-Strength Steel
Stronger and more ductile than typical steel, advanced high strength steel could reduce component weight by up to 25 percent. It is generally compatible with existing manufacturing and materials currently used in vehicles.
The Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) is supporting research to improve the properties and manufacturing processes for advanced high-strength steel and show how it can be used in vehicles. With the US Automotive Materials Partnership (USAMP) and the Auto Steel Partnership, the Office is working to develop third generation advanced high strength steels with properties beyond any demonstrated steel. Increased strength and formability can improve how well materials perform in crashes while allowing companies to manufacture components using conventional techniques.
Aluminum alloys offer a stepping stone between short and long-term research. Because of aluminum's use in aerospace and construction, scientists have a good understanding of its characteristics and processing. Manufacturers currently use it in vehicle hoods, panels, and powertrain components, but face barriers in cost and manufacturing. Manufacturers also face issues with joining, corrosion, repair, and recycling when they combine aluminum with other materials.
VTO has supported a number of activities researching aluminum. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has already significantly improved the strength and ductility of an aluminum sheet designed for use in heavy-duty truck cab components. Our work with PNNL and Ford is now working to improve how manufacturers pre-process sheets of aluminum to increase formability during stamping. In addition, a project with PNNL and General Motors is demonstrating "tailor welded blanks" of aluminum, a process where manufacturers join sheets of varying thickness into a single piece, providing stiffness where it is needed and reducing weight elsewhere.