Feds will provide $14.2 million for lightweighting efforts

Volumes have been written about how much obesity costs the U.S. in terms of healthcare costs. Now, the government is looking for ways for cars to shed some pounds as well.

The U.S. Department of Energy will provide $14.2 million in funding towards projects that develop materials to cut vehicle weight, which can help boost overall fuel economy and cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that the government is looking to speed up the development of materials such as carbon-fiber composites, high-strength steel and aluminum that can be used for vehicle bodies. For instance, use of high-strength steel for certain components may be 25 percent lighter than conventional steel, while carbon-fiber use may cut the weight of certain components in half. Overall, a 10-percent reduction in vehicle weight may boost fuel economy by as much as eight percent.

Of the $14.2 million, $8.2 million will be made available for the 2012 fiscal year, while the rest will be available for fiscal 2013. Companies have through May 7 to send in applications for the funding.

Along with furthering powertrain electrification and other alt-fuel drivetrains, lightweighting is seen as a way to help automakers meet the progressively more stringent fuel-economy standards proposed by the U.S. Last year, the Obama Administration proposed a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of 54.5 miles per gallon for 2025. That's equal to a real world average of about 40 mpg. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said it would invest as much as $10 million for the development of battery-electric trucks, forklifts and other cargo vehicles in a further attempt to cut petroleum use by the domestic transportation industry.
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Obama Administration Announces $14.2 Million in New Funding to Develop Lightweight Materials for Advanced Vehicles

March 22, 2012

Today, as President Obama went to Ohio State University to discuss the all-out, all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, the White House announced a new $14.2 million effort at the Department of Energy to accelerate the development and deployment of stronger and lighter materials for advanced vehicles that will help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, save drivers money, and limit carbon pollution. This funding will support the development of high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber composites and advanced steels and alloys that will help vehicle manufacturers improve the fuel economy of cars and trucks while maintaining and improving safety and performance.

"By investing in next-generation vehicle materials and components, we are helping U.S. manufacturers improve the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and ensuring American companies remain at the cutting-edge of the global auto industry," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Lighter, stronger materials will help improve the performance of our vehicles while saving families and businesses money at the pump."

Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with lightweight materials-including advanced high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum, and polymer composites-allows manufacturers to include additional safety devices, integrated electronic systems, and emissions control equipment on vehicles without increasing their weight. Using lighter materials also reduces a vehicle's fuel consumption. For example, reducing a vehicle's weight by 10% can improve the fuel economy by 6 to 8%.

The Energy Department intends to fund projects across three major areas of materials research and development, including developing modeling tools to deliver higher performing carbon fiber composites and advanced steels, as well as researching new lightweight, high-strength alloys for energy-efficient vehicle and truck engines. The specific research areas include:

Predictive modeling of carbon fiber composites: Carbon fiber composites are capable of reducing vehicle component weight by up to 50% over conventional automotive steel structures. Projects selected in this area will validate modeling tools to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of carbon fiber composite materials for vehicle body, chassis, and interior uses.

Predictive modeling of advanced steels: Advanced high strength steels are capable of reducing vehicle component weight by more than 25%. Projects selected in this area will develop modeling tools to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of third-generation high strength steels for the vehicle body and chassis.

Advanced alloy development for automotive and heavy-duty engines: As manufacturers continue to push the limits of engine efficiency, cast engine components must be strong enough to withstand higher cylinder pressures. Projects selected in this area will develop low-cost, high-strength alloys for automotive and heavy duty engine blocks and cylinder heads.

The Energy Department will make up to $8.2 million available in fiscal year 2012 for selection under this funding opportunity announcement, and subject to congressional appropriations, the Department plans to make an additional $6 million available in fiscal year 2013 to fully fund these advanced materials projects, which will take 2-4 years to complete.

The Department will accept applications from industry, national laboratories, and university led-teams to address these challenges and enable technologies that will drive innovation in vehicle design. Applications for the solicitation are due May 7, 2012. For more information and application requirements, please visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

The Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. Learn more about DOE's efforts to meet tomorrow's transportation challenges with an integrated portfolio of advanced vehicle and fuel research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities.

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