Fiber Fever: Carbon Goes Mainstream

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
fiber fever carbon goes mainstream

For a long time, carbon fiber was a high tech, high cost product. Slowly, carbon fiber is going mainstream. From Volkswagen to Toyota and GM, large automakers have carbon fiber projects in the works. Now, Ford is joining the bandwagon made from lightweight fiber.

Ford joined up with fiber specialist Dow Chemical “to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy,” Reuters writes.

Shedding weight is one of the most efficient ways to increase fuel economy. If you don’t have to drag around superfluous weight, your car will go farther on a tank of gas, or a fully charged battery for that matter. By 2020, Ford aims to cut between 250 pounds and 750 pounds from its new cars and trucks, partly by using lighter materials.

Using carbon fiber instead of steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, says to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.

The biggest problem is cost: These space-aged materials command spaced-out prices. Bringing cost and weight down is the biggest challenge.

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5 of 29 comments
  • Tced2 Tced2 on Apr 12, 2012

    There is a bit of experience in using carbon fiber in race cars - IndyCar for instance. But a chassis costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and are practically custom made. Speaking of repairs, I've often wondered about how suspensions are attached to the carbon fiber frame. And how the suspension "gives away" when having an accident - allowing for new suspension parts to be re-attached. I don't think that carbon fiber can be repaired - once it is damaged - a new part is needed.

  • Stuntmonkey Stuntmonkey on Apr 12, 2012

    Except as it is, carbon can be toxic to cure and is not recyclable. The industry is built up around recycling old car bodies, even if composite manufacturing was suddenly cheap, the end of life issues would be challenging. However, carbon reinforced safety cages would be a tremendous thing.

  • Another_pleb Another_pleb on Apr 12, 2012

    I could see carbon fibre being used for things like seat and door frames. It already is for high-end Porsches and BMWs For recycling carbon fibre, there are many potential solutions; it can be ground down into pellets and mixed with tar and gravel and used in tarmac for roads.

    • Banjopanther Banjopanther on Apr 12, 2012

      You really don't want to mix CF with asphalt for use in roads. For one thing it's sharp, CF makes nasty splinters on it's own, and cured into a matrix, it will cut you easily. Secondly, it's hazardous to inhale, especially if cars are wearing it down into a powder.

  • Geo Geo on Apr 12, 2012

    When I saw the title, I thought Carbon Motors had given up on police cars, and was going to try selling cars to the public.