Lightweight materials are the next pit-stop in the challenge of reducing mass, and therefore curb emissions, to improve fuel economy in the vehicle industry.
Current estimates suggest that global levels of CO2 may still be rising by 2050. By that date UK authorities have promised to cut CO2 emissions from transport by 80%. Current reductions have been gained by improvements in engine performance but these gains are diminishing. To meet the carbon emissions target we need to reduce vehicle mass. For example, a car the size of a Ford Focus would need to reduce mass by about 300kg (from ~1200kg to ~900kg). The car industry needs to find a way to manufacture lightweights without adding production cost in the shorter term.
Loughborough University and Far UK Ltd, a Nottingham-based innovative low-volume tailored vehicle designer and manufacturer, have joined forces to explore the concept of novel and engineered structures, multifunctional materials bespoke for their mechanical properties, and manufactured in a cost-benefit and continuous fashion using Sonication technology that allows on-demand tailoring of porosity. This exciting research program has just secured co-funding from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
This collaboration is developing new technology in the production of carbon fibre and glass fibre porous composite beams as well as natural fibres, which are seen to have a positive impact on the Life Cycle Analysis of the process. The continuous extrusion process moves away from traditional high waste composite manufacturing methods. It offers flexibility in the dimensions and the tailored structural beams require minimal tooling. This novel manufacturing technology could also work for other sectors e.g. heavy goods vehicles and rail.
Dr Carmen Torres-Sánchez, from the Multifunctional Materials Manufacturing Lab in the Wolfson School, is working towards developing new products and manufacturing protocols to design and manufacture engineered porosity structures that combine high-spec of mechanical properties and low weight.
Dr Kevin Lindsey, Far UK Ltd, Technical Director, says "The business opportunity is to manufacture structures and components for the new range of low weight vehicles. This ambition is currently wing-clipped by the lagging behind of the traditional manufacturing technologies in the automotive sector. In collaboration with Loughborough University we will develop a breakthrough cost-effective manufacturing process to create the most efficient structures that enable low-carbon vehicles"
This programme of research presents a new avenue for high value manufacturing and helps support the UK knowledge base, economy and jobs.