Ford, DowAksa accelerate automotive carbon fiber research

The companies are working to overcome the high cost of carbon fiber, while developing a viable, high-volume manufacturing process for automotive applications.

Ford Motor Co. (Deerborn, MI, US) and DowAksa (Istanbul, Turkey) reported on Jan. 12 that they are accelerating joint research to develop high-volume manufacturing techniques for automotive-grade carbon fiber, aiming to make vehicles lighter for greater fuel efficiency, performance and capability.

The companies will be part of the newly formed Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, created by the U.S. government. The institute is part of the larger National Network for Manufacturing Innovation supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Our collaboration with DowAksa and participation in this organization significantly boosts what we are able to achieve,” says Ken Washington, Ford vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. “We have a true alliance of highly talented people working to take automotive materials to the next level.”

The mission of the institute and the goal of Ford’s collaboration with DowAksa – a 50/50 joint venture between The Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI, US) and Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii A.Ş. (Istanbul) – is to overcome the high cost and limited availability of carbon fiber, while developing a viable, high-volume manufacturing process. Ford and Dow Chemical began working together in 2012 to develop low-cost, high-volume carbon fiber composites.

“This opportunity builds upon Ford’s current joint development agreement with Dow Chemical and accelerates our time line to introduce carbon fiber composites into high-volume applications,” says Jim deVries, Ford global manager, Materials and Manufacturing Research. “This collaboration helps us accelerate our efforts to create lighter automotive-grade composite materials that benefit customers by enabling improved fuel economy without sacrificing strength.”

“DowAksa’s technology and manufacturing expertise will help effectively overcome barriers to entry for the use of carbon fiber composites in high-volume automotive applications,” says Douglas Parks, DowAksa board member and a primary participant in the founding of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. “The new institute provides a collaborative platform to accelerate our progress.”

“Our goal is to develop a material that can greatly reduce vehicle weight in support of improved fuel economy for our customers,” says Patrick Blanchard, Ford supervisor, Composites Group. “The flexibility of the technology allows us to develop materials for all vehicle subsystems across the product line – resulting in a weight savings of more than 50% compared to steel.”

The Ford Lightweight Concept Fusion applied such lightweight materials as aluminum, high-strength steel, magnesium, composites and carbon fiber to nearly every vehicle system to reduce the car’s weight to that of a Fiesta – a nearly 25% reduction.