It doesn’t take a mastermind to realize that the lighter an automobile, the more fuel efficient, more capable, and better-performing it is. And one of the most effective ways to make a vehicle lighter is to use lighter components. That’s why Ford Motor Company is exploring high-volume manufacturing of automotive-grade carbon fiber with DowAksa — a joint venture between The Dow Chemical Company, with whom Ford has been working since 2012, and Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii A.Ş. The companies will be part of the newly-formed Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, created by the U.S. government, and the institute itself is part of the larger National Network for Manufacturing Innovation supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Our collaboration with DowAksa and participation in this organization significantly boosts what we are able to achieve,” said Ford vice president for Research and Advanced Engineering, Ken Washington. “We have a true alliance of highly talented people working to take automotive materials to the next level.”
Automotive enthusiasts are well aware that advanced lightweight materials like carbon fiber are pricey propositions that traditionally have been restricted to exotics and performance cars such as the 2016 Ford GT. Hence the purpose of Ford’s collaboration with DowAksa, which involves developing a high-volume manufacturing process that can overcome the high cost and limited availability of carbon fiber.
“This opportunity builds upon Ford’s current joint development agreement with Michigan-based Dow Chemical and accelerates our time line to introduce carbon fiber composites into high-volume applications,” said Ford global manager for Materials and Manufacturing Research, Jim deVries. “This collaboration helps us accelerate our efforts to create lighter automotive-grade composite materials that benefit customers by enabling improved fuel economy without sacrificing strength.”
As with many automotive innovations, carbon fiber composites originated in the aircraft and car racing industries. The high strength and low weight of carbon fiber has one other key attribute that can benefit vehicles in that it can be tailored to a specific component with a particular stiffness/flexibility ratio.
“Our goal is to develop a material that can greatly reduce vehicle weight in support of improved fuel economy for our customers,” said Ford supervisor for Composites Group, Patrick Blanchard. “The flexibility of the technology allows us to develop materials for all vehicle subsystems across the product line – resulting in a weight savings of more than 50 percent compared to steel.”
Will we see lighter Ford and Lincoln cars, trucks, vans, trucks, and SUVs thanks to a significant amount of carbon fiber content? Is it a matter of when and not if? Only time will tell. But you can bet that Motrolix will be here to tell you all about it when it happens.