I have worked with more [automotive] carbon fiber reinforced plastics [CFRP] in the last four years than I have in my entire career,” says Carl Howarth of Howarth Development Associates in Camp Hill, Pa. Engineers like Howarth are responding to changing CAFE standards and an increasing demand for fuel economy requirements and are changing the way they view material expense for mass savings. Bruce Morey of Manufacturing Media Engineering spoke with engineers representing the automotive industry for their take on the future of carbon fiber.

Choosing the right composites for the right applications or the right resins are factors to consider for the future development of CFRP parts. For the mass production of parts, companies will have to develop faster processes for CFRP parts since more and more companies are using CFRP for exterior body panels. George Husman, chief technology officer for Zoltek says, “There is going to be a heavy push towards adapting carbon fiber parts for the heavier luxury vehicles, especially to meet the initial 2017 CAFE requirements. There is willingness to pay a small premium for weight saved, depending on class of vehicle and location of the part you are making lighter.”

Not only is carbon fiber being used in the bodies of cars, but it is also being used in the wheels. The weight of the wheels contributes to the overall weight of the vehicle. Cars with lighter wheels have the ability to accelerate faster, handle and steer better. “We do not view this technology as solely aftermarket. Right now it is viewed as an exotic, lightweight performance item; however ultimately it is a technology for efficiency,” says Brett Gass of Carbon Revolution in Melbourne, Australia.

The cost of carbon fiber is a challenging for the automotive industry. A target price is being discussed that will bring about a more widespread use of carbon fiber in the automotive industry. Facilities like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tenn., are creating a more cost-effective carbon fiber that is similar to today’s carbon.

ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiatives (CGI) establish standards and specifications that encourage the use of composites in place of traditional materials. The Automotive Composites Alliance focuses on growing the composites in the automotive market. For more information on this committee and ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiative, contact Andrew Huber.