In a recent press release the Ford Corporation announced that they are planning to reduce the weight of their vehicles by up to 750 lbs. in the next decade. This will help the company hit their new mile per gallon goals for both standard and electric cars. How are they going to achieve this? By exploring the use of advanced carbon fiber composites in high-volume vehicles. This is great news for those of us in the carbon fiber industry as it places us directly in the market for high volumes of use.
We’ve seen these carbon fibers used in high end vehicles, like those displayed in the latest Lamborghini’s, but never in a high volume situation. Ford is projecting a possible weight reduction of up to 20 percent on some of its most popular, and most affordable, models. The major issue that Ford had to overcome to be able to use carbon fiber composites was one of availability. They estimated that it would take about 30,000 metric tons of carbon fiber to replace their thermoset glass fibers composites. With the global forecast for production coming in at just over 60,000 metric tons, there would be no way for them to do it. Ford needed to find a supplier that could produce large amounts of carbon fiber at a low cost, and they found one, DOW chemical.
Although the project is still in the research and development stage, it isn’t starting from scratch. DOW Automotive Systems has already been working with Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Ford will add its R&D team to the mix in hopes of producing the first carbon fiber models by the end of the decade.
Just by making this announcement, Ford has put pressure on all of the other major car manufacturers to respond. This should lead to a huge demand for carbon fiber and multiple new joint R&D ventures. Not only will car manufacturers be interested in leveraging this new technology if it can be produced on a low cost basis. We could start to see appliances, electronics and other consumer goods that used to be made from metals, turn to the lighter, more resilient carbon fiber. On the other hand, if low cost carbon fiber is not able to be produced on the scale needed by these industries, this will drive prices up. In either case, Ford’s announcement is a win-win for the carbon fiber industry.