Lighter, faster, more powerful – these are just a few qualities that car manufacturers are continually aiming to achieve, with statistics showing that simply lightweighting a vehicle by 10% can increase fuel efficiency by up to 8%. Big strides have been made in areas such as horsepower and the development of hybrid-electric drives, but materials also have a big role to play in improving a car’s efficiency. Read on to discover a few novel materials that are present (or soon to be seen) in some of the world’s most innovative cars.
Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composites
Companies like Daimler are currently working on carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) composite technologies as a way to both reduce a car’s weight and improve its torsional stiffness. CFRP essentially reduces the bodyshell weight of a vehicle by around 40%. The material is also safe, as it is paired up with a crash-protective structure that essentially ‘inflates’ like an airbag upon impact.
Titanium is one of the most exciting materials being used in car manufacture for three main reasons: its lightness, its resistance to high temperatures, and the fact that it is a 100% recyclable eco metal. In Europe, the EcoTitanium plant prevents the emission of around 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year due to novel recycling measures. As reported by TMS Titanium, the vehicle industry is also taking advantage of this metal’s properties for systems such as vehicle exhausts, owing to their powerful anti-corrosive properties. Just this month, Gordon Murray Automotive unveiled the brand new T.50s Niki lauda supercar, which boasts weight-saving components in its intake, control and exhaust systems, as well as its engine. All the vehicle’s valves are made of titanium.
Passive Shape Memory Alloys
Luxury marques such as Lamborghini are very much on the cutting edge when it comes to innovative materials. Its futuristic looking Sián Roadster has a material Lamborghini calls ‘magical’, owing to its smart, adaptive capabilities. The car essentially contains a patented mechanism that activates flaps to improve the car’s thermal performance when necessary. This is made possible by ‘passive shape memory alloys’ (metals with thermal memory) that change their chemical structure depending on temperature. This enables the car to save on weight, as it does not require hydraulic, mechanical or electric actuation.
ABS Plastic And Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Plastic
3D printing is also making strides in lightweighting. Take Olli – a rideshare vehicle by Local Motors that is printed in 3D from a combination of ABS plastic and CFRP. This commercial shutter is much lighter than typical commercial shutters. It is also sustainable and self-driving (it runs purely on electricity and achieves a slow but sure speed of 25 mph).
Cutting edge vehicle manufacturing firms are deeming lightweighting a big priority, with new materials making what was once unimaginable, possible. From 3D printed ABS plastic cars to smart alloys with memories, innovations are either significantly improving fuel efficiency or aiming to up the speed and power of electric vehicles. Materials such as titanium, meanwhile, are showing that lightweightedness and power can go hand in hand, as can optimal thermal resistance.