Ford is leaving
no particle unturned in the quest for fuel efficiency.
Ford scientists are embracing the burgeoning fields of nanotechnology
in developing paints, plastics, light metals and catalysts that allow Ford
to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy without sacrificing
Company researchers plan to outline key ways Ford is leveraging
nanoparticles to improve automotive materials during this week's 2008 SAE
World Congress in Detroit.
"Industry is becoming more efficient at creating nanoparticles," said
Matthew Zaluzec, manager of the Materials Science & Nanotechnology
Department for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. "Our challenge is to
take those nanoparticles, separate them and disperse them into existing
materials in a way that makes our vehicles lighter, more durable, and more
Ford has called out vehicle weight reduction as a key part of its
strategy to improve fuel economy by 40 percent by 2020. The goal is reduce
vehicle weight from 250 to 750 pounds -- depending on the model -- between
2012 and 2020 without compromising safety.
Ford powertrains already are benefiting from the company's grasp of
nanotechnology and mircomechanical properties. A Ford study dubbed "Atoms
to Engines" looked at the structure of cast aluminum alloys at near atomic
levels. From this work, a detailed analysis of the
structure/property/process relationship of the aluminum alloy engine blocks
has led to reduced engine weight and, in turn, increased fuel efficiency.
"Many thought our aluminum engine technology was mature and fully
optimized," Zaluzec said. "Not until we looked at every aspect of the
materials and manufacturing process were we able to pull out another 10
percent in structural performance out of our engines, which directly
translates into weight and fuel economy savings year over year. It's nano
at the working level."
Ford's European research lab in Aachen, Germany, is developing a
thermally sprayed nano-coating that could replace the heavier cast iron
liners that provide the necessary wear resistance of cylinder bores in
aluminum block engines. Presented at this year's SAE World Congress, this
thin wear-resistant coating reduces weight and improves friction
performance while delivering equal durability and reliability to the
Coatings in the way of vehicle exterior paint can benefit from Ford's
nano-knowledge, too. Researchers are evaluating advanced surface coating
applications that could enhance paint adhesion, appearance and durability.
"We want to take paint beyond what our customers are used to seeing on
a vehicle," Zaluzec said. "We constantly ask questions like, can I change
the functionality of a paint layer to give a unique appearance, to control
heat dissipation or improve durability beyond what we've achieved to date?"
Nanotechnology also is being tapped by Ford scientists to help develop
smarter solutions to energy storage issues for alternative power sources
such as lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.
Nanotechnology holds great promise in the auto industry. By 2015,
experts predict nanomaterials will reach 70 percent usage in automotive
Ford was one of the first automakers to apply nanotechnology to its
products with the advent of today's catalytic converter. Ford has been
active since the 1970s in exhaust catalysis and emissions controls, which
are nano-based systems. Ford also was an early leader in the application of
scanning probe microscopes, which allowed scientists to better view matter
at a nano level.
In 2007, Ford bolstered its leadership in nano studies by forming an
alliance with Boeing and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., one of
the early leaders in the field of nanoscience and home to one of the first
nanotechnology centers in the country. The alliance, which was created to
research commercial applications of nanotechnology, is producing promising
results in the areas of specialty metals, plastic composites, thermal
materials, coatings and sensors that could have large-scale uses across the
transportation industry in the future.