The Energy Department is pitching its new $55 million basket of goodies for advanced vehicle efficiency technology as a wide-ranging effort to benefit many vehicle types, especially battery EVs and hybrids as well as gasmobiles and presumably fuel cell EVs. Of the 31 projects tapped for funding, the Ford Motor Company alone snared a healthy $6 million for advanced carbon fiber research, so let’s zero in on that and see what’s doing.
$55 Million For Vehicle Efficiency
Though the new $55 million round of Energy Department funding has a broad impact on vehicle technology, the main focus is on technologies that support the Obama Administration’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge. The ambitious initiative is aimed at getting the US in position to be the first nation in the world where EVs are just as convenient and affordable as gasmobiles. EV Everywhere necessarily involves a significant dose of public-private partnering, so go, team!
The Ford angle is interesting for those of you who followed the Obama Administration’s auto industry bailout after the Great Crash of 2008. Of the Big Three auto makers, Ford famously rejected federal bailout money. CEO Alan Mulally had this to say back in 2010:
I think we’re very much respected for … running a healthy business and not asking for taxpayer money.
Granted, $6 million is nothing compared to the billions that were thrown around for the bailout, but the reality is that Ford has been partnering with publicly funded efforts to position the US auto industry for global competitiveness, and that’s a good thing.
Another recent example is Ford’s recent $2.1 million contribution to a new $8 million EV battery research lab that also received generous Energy Department funding (then there’s that DOE loan program thing, but we digress).
Ford Gets $6 Million For Advanced Carbon Fiber Research
Ford’s $6 million slice of the vehicle efficiency pie is described as a soup-to-nuts project for taking new carbon fiber composites seamlessly from the materials development stage to manufacturing:
This project will develop, integrate and implement predictive models for Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Polymer composites that link the material design, molding process and final performance.
We’re guessing that a global interest in carbon fiber car parts has positioned Ford to take the lead in Energy Department funding. Here’s where Ford’s carbon fiber R&D was heading as of October 2012:
The carbon fibre reinforced plastic Ford Focus bonnet displayed at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany is constructed from the super-strong material usually associated with bespoke racing vehicles or high-performance sports cars.
The prototype bonnet weighs more than 50 percent less than a standard steel version [and] production time for an individual carbon fibre bonnet is fast enough to be employed on a production line…
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. If you’re wondering about the Dusseldorf connection, that’s because the carbon fiber hood (okay, so fibre bonnet if your peeps in Europe are writing the press release) was developed at the Ford European Research Centre (there they go again) in Aachen, Germany.
German taxpayers are footing part of the bill for that project btw. It’s part of the Hightech.NRW research initiative funded by the country’s North Rhine-Westphalia state. But, we digress again.
Many Roads To Vehicle Efficiency
Aside from the carbon-fiber composites angle, Ford has been taking the lead in transitioning its car parts out of steel and other relatively inefficient, energy intensive and non-renewable sources.
Some other examples include a fiberglass alternative made with renewable cellulose from trees, a dandelion-sourced rubber substitute, and interior parts made with soy foam and recycled carpets, blue jeans, or plastic bottles.
Ford’s interest in aluminum alloy also positions the company to gain from another big winner in the Energy Department’s $55 million pot. Alcoa won a total of almost $5 million for two vehicle efficiency projects involving the development of advanced aluminum and aluminum alloys, including a recycling aspect that will help reduce lifecycle costs.