As noted earlier, weight reduction is a crucial part of any balanced approach to achieving aggressive fuel consumption targets and will undoubtedly entail enhanced computational methods and widespread materials substitution. The work being performed under the auspices of the Partnership appears to be properly focused on relevant initiatives.
Although these initiatives appear relevant, the committee questions whether they all satisfy the criteria of high-risk, precompetitive research judged appropriate for federal involvement. Competition has raged among the steel, aluminum, and composites automotive supply base for many years in an effort to achieve low-cost weight reduction via materials substitution, and the aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel, and composites content of production vehicles has been steadily rising for more than 20 years. Furthermore, numerous vehicle demonstration projects have been conducted in the past, both by materials trade associations and by industry consortia, some of which were sponsored by DOE.
As noted in Chapter 2, the committee applauds the appointment by each technical team of an associate member. However, the MTT has selected as its associate member a manufacturer of aluminum truck bodies; although the company no doubt is competent, this selection would seem to add little in the area of greatest need, namely, long-term high-risk research into low-cost lightweight alternative materials. It might be productive for MTT to consider adding another associate member with this type of expertise. Phase 3 Recommendation 3-22 emphasized the need for systems analysis focusing on the most cost-effective way to achieve a 50 percent weight reduction. While the analytical approach in process at ORNL is responsive to that task, it is less clear what value the $10 million award (over 4 years) to Vehma to build another prototype multimaterial vehicle offers, especially considering that the award abstract does not even mention cost.
Phase 3 Recommendation 3-23 reiterated the Phase 2 recommendation (NRC, 2008, p. 9) and essentially anticipated no further work on magnesium, other than inclusion in the analytical optimization process. The Partnership nevertheless listed in its response several continuing Mg projects within the 67 percent of DOE’s FY 2012 budget that is devoted to metals development.
Phase 3 Recommendation 3-24 urged the development of methods to recycle carbon-fiber composites. The Partnership is devoting 18 percent of its FY 2012 Lightweight Materials budget to carbon-fiber projects, including recycling. Although this is responsive to the committee recommendation, it can be argued that carbon fiber offers perhaps the greatest opportunity for weight reduction while maintaining structural integrity, and hence the huge challenge of doing so at low cost could deserve a greater share of the materials budget.
While increased emphasis on low-cost carbon fiber would be desirable, the committee continues to believe that much of the MTT work on light metals and materials substitution demonstrations is not precompetitive and would be best performed by the private sector. Funding currently allocated to these activities