Will the Ford/DowAska Partnership Bring Carbon Fiber to the Masses? Business?
Mark Atwater posted on April 19, 2015 |

Carbon fiber, the primary construction material used in the the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, is a great combination of strength with light weight. Automakers like Ford have long sought those benefits, but mainstream producers like Ford make money building vehicles everyone can afford. So when they take an interest in carbon fiber, you can bet they have big ideas. As described in a Ford press release, they are partnering with DowAksa to advance cost-effective, high-volume manufacturing of automotive-grade carbon fiber. DowAksa is a joint venture between The Dow Chemical Company and Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii A.Ş.

Using carbon fiber (CF) in vehicles isn't new. it's been used in racing and high-performance super-cars for years. Recently, BMW has introduced consumer-level use of CF composites in structural components with its i3 electric vehicle. Despite a cost of over 42 thousand dollars , the price of composite technology has gone down significantly. Although a step in the right direction, it still has a relatively limited consumer base.

The new partnership is part of Ford’s Blueprint for Sustainability effort. Vehicle weight reduction is important to improving fuel efficiency, but meeting automotive strength requirements with composites isn't easy.

The development agreement will enable the companies to closely collaborate and ultimately create low-cost automotive grade CF composites. The challenge is to maintain quality with aligned and randomly oriented fiber fillers that are compatible with thermoplastic and thermoset matrices.

Both companies are part of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation(IACMI), a facet of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The collaboration may extend beyond the initial development period and enter into a commercial manufacturing partnership. 

DowAska vice chairman, Mehmet Ali Berkman, said: “By entering into this agreement, DowAksa is taking a serious approach to providing environmentally sustainable solutions, the goal being the manufacture of much lighter vehicles with optimized performance and cost, which will ensure reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.”

Though no specific intentions are stated, the extensive use of structural composites in an entry level vehicle would be a mass production breakthrough sure to involve robotics and advanced layup and curing technologies.

 

Image: Ford Motor Company

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