Automobiles are undergoing a materials revolution. From the materials that are the key to hydrogen fuel cells to new materials for batteries, the evolution towards more sustainable, environmentally-friendly automobiles is materials driven.
While fuel cells and other similar innovations will take some time to come to your personal vehicle, other environmentally-friendly new materials are already making the transition.
New lightweight composite materials and metals are emerging as key technologies for the future automobile. While there has been much written about the potential of hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, many fewer people realize the enormous environmental (and performance) benefits that can be obtained from new classes of high strength, lightweight materials. Trimming the weight of a vehicle by 1 kg results in a 17-20 Kg reduction in the amount of CO2 emitted during the lifetime of that vehicle.
Video explaining the benefits of using carbon fibre composites in F1 race cars. Such lightweight, super strong advanced materials are beginning to be used in personal vehicles thanks to the work of materials engineers.
While some have worried that moving towards lightweight materials would also mean a move towards less safe vehicles, designers of high performance sports cars have long known that lightweight materials such as carbon fibre composites can be made stronger than any current automotive material and at a fraction of the weight.
Similar advantages are expected by replacing steel components in cars with much lighter weight magnesium metal. Such a replacement, however, is not without its problems. This is why researchers in the Department of Materials Engineering at UBC are spearheading a national research program, MagNet, aimed at developing the next generation of magnesium for automotive applications.
Students in the materials engineering program are able to benefit directly from the expertise of researchers in the department who are leading research into these novel materials as aspects of these problems are incorporated into course content.