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Enhanced Lightweight Design

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New materials for lighter electric vehicles

Advanced materials are vital to further improve fuel economy of electric vehicles (EVs), while maintaining safety and performance. An EU-funded project accelerated the development of high-strength lightweight materials that can make up structural components for future EVs.

Transport and Mobility
Fundamental Research

Every new generation of EV cars have been getting larger and heavier to improve safety and comfort. Using lightweight materials can offset the weight of power systems and other components, improving vehicle efficiency and increasing its driving range before recharging. To date, lightweight materials such as carbon fibre-reinforced plastics have been employed primarily in expensive high-performance cars at relatively high costs. The EU-funded project ENLIGHT (Enhanced lightweight design) developed a portfolio of lightweight materials with low carbon footprint for EVs. The team targeted medium-volume production of ultra-compact four-seat passenger vehicles destined for market in the next eight-12 years. Scientists worked on the entire vehicle configuration, having divided up research to cover the major items contributing to overall weight. Design considered a front module, a central floor module, a front door, a sub-frame and suspension system, and an integrated cross car beam. Highly advanced materials were investigated, including thermoplastic matrix composites, fibre-reinforced composites, advanced hybrids and sandwich materials as well as composites based on biomaterials and renewables. The team took a holistic view considering performance, manufacturing, cost and life-cycle footprint. In addition, the project integrated important outcomes from other projects to increase the chances of success. Scientists evaluated several manufacturing technologies such as fast resin transfer moulding, thermoforming or a hybrid stamping/compression moulding process. Their validation on simple components and parts of the modules proved the cost efficiency of such methods for medium-volume production of EVs. Use of the new lightweight materials resulted in significant weight savings of up to 50 % compared to commercial products. Reducing the cost and environmental footprint of EVs will promote mass production and widespread market uptake. That, in turn, will significantly decrease the environmental impact of cars on the road.

Keywords

Electric vehicles, lightweight materials, ENLIGHT, thermoplastic, moulding

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