In an automotive industry first, Ford has begun introducing two-dimensional nanomaterial graphene under the hood of its vehicles. Predicted to aid the development of next-gen batteries, graphene is now being used to increase component durability and reduce weight.
Dubbed a miracle material by some engineers, graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and highly conductive materials in the world. It is a great sound barrier and is extremely thin and flexible. While graphene is currently not economically viable for all applications, Ford – in collaboration with Eagle Industries and XG Sciences – has found a way to use small amounts in fuel rail covers, pump covers and front engine covers.
“The breakthrough here is not in the material, but in how we are using it,” said Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials at Ford. “We are able to use a very small amount, less than 0.5%, to help us achieve significant enhancements in durability, sound resistance and weight reduction – applications that others have not focused on.”
Graphene was first isolated in 2004, but application breakthroughs are relatively new. The first experiment to isolate graphene was done by using pencil lead, which contains graphite, and a piece of tape, using the tape to pull off layers of graphite to create a material that is a single layer thick – graphene.
In 2014, Ford began working with suppliers to study the material and how to use it, running trials with auto parts such as fuel rail covers, pump covers and front engine covers. Generally, attempting to reduce noise inside vehicle cabins means adding more material and weight, but with graphene, it’s the opposite.
“A small amount of graphene goes a long way, and in this case, it has a significant effect on sound absorption qualities,” said John Bull, president of Eagle Industries.
The graphene is mixed with foam constituents, and tests done by Ford and suppliers have shown about a 17% reduction in noise, a 20% improvement in mechanical properties, and a 30% improvement in heat endurance properties compared with that of the foam used without graphene.
“We are excited about the performance benefits our products are able to provide to Ford and Eagle Industries,” said Philip Rose, XG Sciences’ chief executive officer. “Working with early adopters such as Ford demonstrates the potential for graphene in multiple applications, and we look forward to extending our collaboration into other materials and enabling further performance improvements.”
Graphene is expected to go into production on more than 10 under hood components on the Ford F-150 and Mustang and eventually, other Ford vehicles.