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XCORE: Low Cost CFRP Production for the Next Generation of Lightweight Cars

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - XCORE (XCORE: Low Cost CFRP Production for the Next Generation of Lightweight Cars)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-01-31

Today cars are responsible for 12% of the total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. European climate policy sets mandatory emission reduction targets for new cars. Car weight reduction with a CFRP chassis is an effective measure to reduce fuel consumption, increase passenger safety and extend the operational range of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The mainstream automotive industry has not adopted CFRP for chassis production due to the high costs of CFRP production. Conventional CFRP production technologies produce structural components with an average production cost of 140 Euro/kg. In order to attain a disruptive shift from steel to CFRP within the mainstream automotive industry a maximum production cost of 30 Euro/kg has to be achieved.

The EX-CORE production technology uses an expanding foam technology in heatable closed moulds to create high pressure, necessary for curing the CFRP skin. Conventional production is based on autoclave (high CAPEX) or RTM technology. In essence, conventional technology produces pressure from outside the part, whilst EX-CORE produces pressure from within the core. EX-CORe production technology reduces the CFRP production investment costs, material costs, operational costs and labor.

EX-CORE will initiate a disruptive shift from steel manufactured cars to CFRP manufactured cars. The key market is the European car manufacturing industry, which produces 17.3 million vehicles per year complemented with the US and Asian automotive industries.

A demonstration is necessary to convince the automotive sector of the added value of the EX-CORE technology.
"The project has two main elements: developing a demonstrator and scaling up of the technology.

During the first period of the project the consortium has developed a concept for vehicle structure based on the EX-CORE technology. Material research helped determine the boundaries and performance of the structure geometry. Finite element calculations determined the CFRP layup and EX-CORE density distribution throughout the platform. The density and geometry was then broken down into smaller laboratory scale tests to determine the foam core ""recipe"". Goal was to keep the specific material properties high, whilst ensuring an industrial (short) process cycle.

The team have further refined the mold technology and process parameters to ensure high efficiency, short production cycle, reduced fall out and waste. The team tested large scale tooling solutions (metal) and small scale tooling solutions (CFRP tooling).

Parallel to this the team refined the business case to better respond to the changing market. Through conversations with OEM's and TIER suppliers the team learned that the industry is shifting its focus towards electric drivetrain technology and autonomous driving in the years to come. Platform production and material technology is therefor not a focal area. Although OEM's have indicated that this will become essential once battery technology has been adopted widely. The EX-CORE team has decided to develop a new strategy for short term growth: Co-development. Through a co-development the team is able to tailor the technology and design together with the OEM. Added benefit of this strategy is easy adoption and reduced risk. The production is outsourced via licensing. (Technology licensing was initially and still is the commercial goal of the project.) The team also widened the market by adding high growth markets such as aerospace (drones) and e-bikes to the scope to ensure initial cashflow. The company branding was designed to appeal to the target markets.

The commercial strategy was consolidated by the installation of the 400m2 production department at the Lelystad plant. Another 400m2 has been reserved for scale up. The production department includes an automated CFRP cutting machine, walk-in freezer for material storage, production area, EX-CORE mixing area with extraction, mold storage, etc. The department was inspected and approved by the Dutch health and safety authorities.

The team developed the injection strategy for EX-CORE and further refined the mixing station. The final production machine is currently in development. However, both concepts have already been tested in various prototypes.

In March 2020 the team launched EX-CORE to the target audience. The EX-CORE team is currently in discussion with aerospace, electric bicycle and car manufacturers regarding the adoption of EX-CORE."
The EX-CORE team is expecting to start initial co-development projects in Q2-Q3 2020. This should lead to initial licensing projects in 2021.
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