Ultralight Cars, Clemson University

Clemson University Led $5.81M Project May Lead To Ultralight Auto Doors

A team of researchers at Clemson University will be granted $5.1 million to develop ultra lightweight auto doors in an effort to meet the increasingly high future federal fuel efficiency standards. Utilizing carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRT) composites to manufacture the new doors, they are said to be more than 40 percent lighter than traditional doors. The lighter car door will equate to a lighter car, therefore requiring less fuel and increasing the fuel economy.


Federal Regulations Mandated

Government regulations brought forth in 2012 mandated that by 2025, “car manufacturers must produce vehicles with average fuel economies of 54.5 miles per gallon,” according to a U.S. News report. However, John O’Dell, senior editor at Edmonds.com believes this won’t be the reality. In the report he states, “Bottom line, that isn’t what we’re going to see. That’s not to say, however, that fuel efficiency overall won’t increase or that there won’t be cars that get 54.5 miles to the gallon or more by 2025,” he says.


New Technology to Meet the Deadline

The team at Clemson University is leading the front to help manufacturers meet that deadline now. “Not only will we help the auto industry meet a critical deadline, but we will also be educating the next generation of automotive engineers,” said Zoran Filipi, the chairman of Clemson’s automotive engineering department during a Composites Manufacturing Magazine interview. “We’re creating the model to transform U.S. automotive engineering competitiveness.”

Researchers are challenged with the task of creating a door that is not only lightweight, but also safe and cost-effective. Every aspect of the product development cycle will be closely monitored so a prototype can be developed and a door can be introduced to the market in a timely fashion, according to comments from the principal investigator of the project—Srikanth Pilla—who is also an assistant professor of engineering at the University.

Once the doors are developed, we can apply the technology used to make the doors lightweight to the rest of the car’s body, he says. In addition to the technology, the materials proposed are completely recyclable. Pilla believes this fact is what allowed the team to win funding over other proposals. “Once the car is done with its service life, instead of putting it in a landfill or junkyard, we can recycle it and use it in different applications,” he said.


Project Funding for Ultralight Cars

The grant was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy which accounted for $2.25 million toward the project, while the private industry supplied the rest. So far, the researchers have agreed upon two designs – of which the team will decide on one early next year. In conjunction with the team of Clemson-led researchers, the University of Delaware Center for Composite Research, and private-industry partners, Filipi will give Clemson University undergraduate and graduate students a chance to not only become involved in the project, but also lead the future and prepare students to move into careers which are “familiar with new lightweight materials.”

In the future, the team believes the need for these lightweight materials will expand to additional parts of vehicles, thus producing ultralight cars. This project was one of 24 recipients who were awarded grants in an effort to research ways to increase energy productivity, reduce the Unites States need to rely on foreign oil, and reduce harmful emissions.

To follow the progress of the project, visit @CU_ICAR on Twitter or http://cuicar.com/.

Photo credit: Thomas Anderson / CC BY 2.0

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