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Department of Energy invests in advanced vehicle materials

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Aug. 14, 2012—U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu recently announced funding for several new projects to accelerate the development and deployment of stronger and lighter materials for American-made cars and trucks.

The DOE said the projects are part of the Obama administration’s strategy to reduce reliance on foreign oil and save money for drivers. The projects include development and validation of modeling tools for carbon fiber composites and advanced steels, and research into new lightweight, high-strength alloys for energy-efficient vehicle engines.

The DOE will fund two projects to validate existing modeling tools in order to optimize the performance and cost-effectiveness of carbon fiber composites for vehicle body, chassis and interior uses. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, based in Richland, Wash., will receive $1 million to validate carbon fiber composite models.

In addition, the DOE will invest $6 million in Detroit-based United States Automotive Materials Partnership to develop new modeling tools to advance high-strength steels for light passenger vehicles.

The DOE will also help fund four projects to develop lightweight, high-strength alloys for automotive and heavy duty engine blocks and cylinder heads. For example, Caterpillar Inc, based in Peoria, Ill., will receive $3.4 million to develop high-strength iron-based alloys to achieve higher cylinder pressures and increased engine efficiency.

The DOE said these projects will help provide additional technologies and innovations that will enable auto manufacturers to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and safety beyond regulated levels.

Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with lightweight materials—including high-strength steel, magnesium, aluminum and carbon fiber composites—allows vehicle manufacturers to include additional safety devices, integrated electronic systems and emissions control equipment on vehicles without increasing their weight, the DOE said.

“With strong, lightweight materials we have an opportunity to dramatically increase vehicle fuel economy, while helping America maintain its competitive edge in automotive design and manufacturing,” Secretary Chu said. “Today’s investment in new lightweight materials builds on the Obama Administration’s historic fuel economy standards that are already helping drivers save money at the pump.”

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