Targeting weight reductions of up to 750 pounds per vehicle, Ford and Dow engineers and researchers will combine efforts to develop low-cost carbon fiber and component-level manufacturing processes. Dow says it will leverage a partnership with Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer AKSA of Istanbul.
Currently, the carbon fiber composites industry is estimated at $10 billion U.S. dollars globally and is expected to reach $40 billion US dollars by 2022. The current commercial focal point has been in aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Clearly, the future is in mass production cars, which must meet tough new mileage mandates. The pressure is particularly urgent for electric vehicles where mass loads must be decreased to allow smaller batteries.
“There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do,” says Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. “Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload.”
Ford is investigating a range of new materials, enhanced design processes and new manufacturing techniques that would enable automotive structures to meet increasingly stringent safety and quality standards while cutting weight.
“Vehicle weight reduction for our customers through intelligent design with a materials focus has been a priority for Dow Automotive Systems,” says Florian Schattenmann, director of Research and Development for Dow Automotive Systems. “This partnership with Ford on carbon fiber composites is a logical next step to progress already achieved through the use of lightweight, high-strength polymers and structural bonding technology.”
Carbon fiber composites have been used in aerospace and racing cars for decades due to their unique combination of high strength and low mass. While they have been a big hit in light-weighting the Dreamliner, they are far too expensive in terms of materials cost and processing speeds for use in mass-production cars. At least so far.
The development teams from Ford and Dow will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fiber and development of component manufacturing methods for high-volume automotive applications.
The partnership will seek to combine the best of Ford’s capabilities and experience in design, engineering and high-volume vehicle production with Dow Automotive’s strengths in R&D, materials science and high-volume polymer processing.
“Reducing weight will benefit the efficiency of every Ford vehicle,” says Mascarenas. “However, it’s particularly critical to improving the range of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles.”
The joint development effort will also leverage work that Dow has done with the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The Ford partnership is a particularly interesting play for Dow, which seems to have offloaded plastics, such as polycarbonate, that had a potentially large role in auto light-weighting. Dow seems to have an eye on specialty systems in future automotive developments. Dow’s history has been mass production of volume chemicals and plastics. Its future is very different, and the Ford partnership appears to be a significant step in the new direction.
Dow’s partnership with AKSA to form a joint venture to manufacture and commercialize carbon fiber and derivatives was announced just five months ago. Under terms of the agreement, Dow and AKSA will each hold a 50% stake in the joint venture. Total investment in the project, including third party investments, is expected to reach $1 billion in five years and create up to 1,000 jobs. The JV will expand on AKSA’s existing carbon fiber production assets in Yalova, Turkey.
Akkök Group of Companies Chief Executive Officer and AKSA Board Chairman Mehmet Ali Berkman said, “Making Turkey the second biggest acrylic fiber market in the world with its leading position in technical fiber and production capacity in acrylic fiber, AKSA has achieved an important position in the international market with the carbon fiber. Carbon fiber composites, which will replace metal as the material of the future, have significant importance for fundamental industries in Turkey such as transportation (automobile, high-speed train, vessels, heavy vehicles, etc.), wind energy technologies and construction, particularly for earthquake-resistant buildings.”
AKSA (Akrilik Kimya Sanayii A.) is the world’s largest producer of acrylic fiber with 308,000 tons per year capacity and claims a 14.2% share of the worldwide market.