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Carbon fiber has received quite a bit of attention lately, primarily due to its extensive use in Boeing’s high-tech, lighter weight 787 Dreamliner airplanes. But most Americans likely will experience this modern material in a more down-to-earth vehicle, now that automakers increasingly are turning to carbon fiber when planning and building new cars.
Some recent examples:
* The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray’s roof and hood are made with carbon fiber.
* BMW uses the material to make the passenger frame of its high production i3 electric car.
* Ford has partnered with The Dow Chemical Company to create more car parts using carbon fiber.
Beyond autos and aerospace, carbon fiber already is used to make sporting goods, wind energy turbines, military equipment, America’s Cup racing boats and more. It’s said to be up to 10 times stronger than steel yet four times lighter. And its use is expected to double or even triple by 2020.
So ... just what is carbon fiber? And why should American car drivers (and passengers) care?
Made mostly of carbon atoms, carbon fiber is an incredibly small diameter fiber, usually between 5 and 10 microns across (a micron is a millionth of a meter or about 0.000039 inches). These fibers are bundled to form thread that often is woven into a fabric.
We all learned in chemistry class that a diamond—one of the hardest natural substances—is composed of carbon atoms arranged in a particular lattice. So it’s not surprising that carbon fiber is stiff, strong and light, plus resistant to chemicals and tolerant of high temperatures. It sounds ideal for making stuff.
In fact, on its own, carbon fiber often is not ideal. It usually needs to be combined with other materials to provide the properties needed for a racecar chassis or airplane fuselage or prosthetic limb or tennis racket or fishing rod or bicycle frame.
Combined with what other materials? Typically plastics.
The term “carbon fiber” when used in layman terms most often refers to “carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics” - that is, a composite made up of carbon fibers plus some type of plastic. Or some combination of plastics and perhaps some other materials. Since “carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics” is a mouthful, many people simply shorten it to: “carbon fiber” or “carbon fiber composite.” And the “plastics” get forgotten.
Combining carbon fiber with plastics is sort of like adding rebar (“reinforcing bar”) to concrete, which creates “reinforced concrete.” The combination of carbon fiber and plastics results in materials with superior qualities, including exceptional strength and durability.
As mentioned above, new cars likely will see rapid growth in the use of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (often abbreviated CFRP). To date, CFRP auto components—chassis, spoilers, roofs, hoods and many internal and external parts—largely have been employed in higher-end luxury or performance cars due to high manufacturing costs. Today many automakers (e.g., Ford, Mercedes, General Motors, BMW) are investing heavily in CFRP applications, now that costs are coming down and new technologies allow these components to be produced more quickly.
So ... why should we care? Because increased use of CFRP can reduce vehicle weight, improve fuel economy and contribute to safety.
* Weight/fuel economy: As noted above, CFRP is much stronger than steel yet lighter, so car components can be made lighter. That’s one reason behind the Ford and Dow partnership—to help reduce auto weight 750 pounds by 2020. Just a 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight can increase fuel efficiency 6 to 8 percent over the life of today’s cars.
* Safety: CFRP auto components can have a higher “energy-absorption” rate than steel, which can contribute to improved safety in a collision. High-speed racecars, for example, today are made largely with CFRP, which has led to reduced weight, improved performance—and enhanced safety. Like other safety advances developed for the racetrack, CFRP components now are headed toward mainstream use in the family car.
This marriage of carbon fiber and plastics already has contributed to advances in products as diverse as motorcycles, laptops and helicopters. Based on research and development by automakers, it now appears poised to contribute to our next commute.
(BPT) - The shiny paint. The new car smell. Many aspects about buying or leasing a new vehicle can excite your senses.
Once you are inside your new vehicle, you are probably asking yourself a lot of questions. Where will I put my sunglasses? Is the trunk big enough for my groceries? What does this button do?
Chances are your new vehicle will feature some new technologies, many of which can make driving safer, easier and more enjoyable. To be safe on the road, it’s important to learn how these technologies work in your current vehicle or a new one.
The Top Technologies for Mature Drivers guide is a new interactive tool that outlines the top 10 new vehicle technologies that are most beneficial for mature drivers. Based on research conducted by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab, it has 10 animated videos that demonstrate how the technologies work. It can be found on the AARP Driving Resource Center at www.aarp.org/drc.
“Learning about vehicle technology is an important component of feeling empowered, confident and safe behind the wheel,” says Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist and executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. “The Top Technologies for Mature Drivers tool is a great way for drivers to see how these technologies can be used to enhance the driving experience.”
Recent research shows 55 percent of drivers over the age of 50 plan to buy or lease another vehicle in the next five years, indicating that more and more drivers will encounter new technologies in their vehicles.
“The most important thing you can do to make the best use of new automobile technologies is to continue your education,” says Julie Lee, AARP Driver Safety vice president and national director. “Increasing your awareness of changes to automobiles, traffic laws and roadway designs and learning how they impact your driving may bolster safety, comfort and improve confidence behind the wheel.”
An AARP Driver Safety course helps you learn about the latest technology options and traffic laws. You’ll learn new skills to improve your defensive driving techniques and completing the course could help you get a multi-year discount on your auto insurance (check with your agent for details). You’ll find all these benefits in just one class, available in-person or online.