US government leading lightweight powertrain materials collaboration

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The US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, FCA US and Mexican supplier Nemak are working together to create lightweight powertrain materials to help OEMs meet stricter rules on emissions and fuel consumption that are being introduced over the next 10 years.

Oak Ridge researchers say that auto makers need powertrain materials that are not only lighter, but also low cost and able to withstand the elevated temperatures and pressures in high-efficiency turbocharged engines. With the typical materials development cycle taking 10 to 20 years, they explain, there is little time to waste.

The Oak Ridge-led project is part of a new initiative from the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office to develop new high-performance alloys. Ford, General Motors and FCA US are collaborating with national laboratories, universities and the casting industry to develop an affordable, 300°C-capable high-strength cast aluminum alloy.

This target means engineering a material 25% stronger than current alloys and durable at temperatures 50°C higher – a necessity for next-generation engines. Researchers say that the real challenge is to accomplish this while keeping costs low for OEMs and consumers.

“The aggressive goals of these projects compress about half a century of typical materials development into a four-year project,” said Department of Energy program manager Jerry Gibbs.

The research team on the project is using integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) to speed the development of new high-temperature aluminum alloys for automotive cylinder heads. Use of ICME enables researchers to tailor new alloys at the atomic level to achieve desired properties such as strength and ease of manufacturability.

Amit Shyam from Oak Ridge National Laboratories

“Aluminum has been in mass-scale production for more than a century, but current cast aluminum alloys cannot withstand the temperatures required by new advanced combustion regimes,” said Oak Ridge principal investigator Amit Shyam. “Our goal is to take high-temperature cast aluminum where it has never been.”

The research group is speeding up the process by scaling ICME to run on the Department of Energy’s Titan supercomputer, which it says is the second-fastest computer in the world. The supercomputer enables the research predictions to be run on an atomic scale, improving the results, but also cutting the time and resources the project will need.

November 24, 2015

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Dean has been with UKi Media & Events for over a decade, having previously cut his journalistic teeth writing and editing for various automotive and engineering titles. He combines extensive knowledge of all things automotive with a passion for driving, and experience testing countless new vehicles, engines and technologies around the world. As well as his role as editor-in-chief across a range of UKi's media titles, he is also co-chair of the judging panel of the International Engine of the Year Awards.

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