July 17, 2017
News Release

Doubling Down on Lighter, More Efficient Vehicles

National labs aid industry in efforts to shed pounds


PNNL researchers study ways of making vehicles weigh less as part of DOE's LightMAT consortium.

The lighter the vehicle the farther it travels on a gallon of fuel. That's the driver behind the four new projects designed to overcome technical hurdles in reducing the weight of vehicle components. The projects are part of a first round of industrial assistance opportunities supported by the Department of Energy's LightMAT—the Lightweight Materials Consortium.

LightMAT is a network of 10 national laboratories with technical capabilities highly relevant to lightweight materials development and utilization. LightMAT provides straight forward access to resources and capabilities in this network via a single point of contact and works to match industry research teams with expertise and equipment found only at national laboratories. LightMAT is managed by DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the participating national laboratories and is sponsored by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

LightMAT will provide $1.2 million to further lightweight vehicles through research on materials and processing. Over the next two years, three DOE national laboratories will provide technical assistance to five industry partners. Each industry partner will match DOE's investment dollar for dollar at a minimum to advance lightweight materials technology.

"LightMAT enables DOE's national laboratories to assist industry with very fundamental scientific research that will make even lighter vehicles possible," said LightMAT director Darrell Herling, who is also an engineer at PNNL. "We asked industry applicants to bring us their biggest technical challenges in implementing lightweight materials, and we'll bring the right capabilities and knowhow, not available outside the national lab system, to bear on the problem."

If lighter materials can be manufactured more cost- and energy-efficiently, it will speed-up their adoption into vehicles. Participating industrial partners will apply and test approaches developed in these projects and ultimately, as global-suppliers, be able to provide lightweight components to multiple vehicle producers and increase the U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing generally.

The four teams will tackle the following technical challenges:

Putting the brakes on weight

  • Arconic, an engineered material supplier, and PNNL will partner to develop a metal-ceramic composite brake system. PNNL has extensive experience in metal matrix composites, which are stronger and more rigid versions of metal alloys. Researchers at PNNL will use a research-scale mixing process to make the composite, and evaluate the resulting material for strength and wear resistance. Replacing current cast iron brake components with those made from a composite will reduce vehicle mass.

Carbon coat it

  • ArcelorMittal, a multinational steel products company and Diversitak, a Detroit based automotive polymer material manufacturer/supplier, will team with experts from Oak Ridge and Idaho national laboratories to reinforce very thin sheets of advanced high strength steel with a carbon fiber epoxy coating and conduct component testing. Advanced high strength steel can be made into very thin, lightweight panels but are challenged to meet stiffness performance required by automotive manufacturers. Carbon fiber reinforced epoxy application will help to achieve these desired targets. ORNL's carbon materials expertise and INL's chemistry, metallography and high resolution imaging capability will help the partners develop and ensure the integrity of the interface between the coating and the steel.

Mitigate magnesium corrosion

  • Magna, a mobility technology company and one of the world’s largest suppliers in the automotive space, and PNNL will partner to develop strategies to join magnesium—the lightest weight structural metal and among the newest materials used in vehicle manufacturing—to other dissimilar metals, while simultaneously mitigating corrosion. Magnesium parts would ideally be bolted or welded to another part in applications such as interior door beams, but if the joined area is exposed to moisture, magnesium will interact with most other metals and cause corrosion. PNNL researchers anticipate being able to manipulate the chemistry of magnesium to make it less corrosive in addition to applying specialized isolating barriers between it and the other metals so the lightweight metal can be used to make corrosion resisting and smooth surface body panels.

Better tooling for extruding alloys

  • Sapa Technology, the R&D arm of Sapa Group, a world leading aluminum solutions provider, will work with PNNL to more cost effectively produce extruded components of very strong aluminum alloys. The components are shaped by forcing aluminum through a die to form certain shapes that are often used in a vehicle's inner structure. It's difficult to extrude these parts at high rates and volumes and the extrusion tooling equipment wears out quickly. PNNL's metallurgical expertise will help improve the tooling design and optimize the extrusion process to make it faster and lower cost. Researchers will 'see' interactions between aluminum and steel at the atomic level using electron microscopes at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science user facility located at PNNL.

For more information about LightMAT, including future opportunities to leverage the collective National Laboratory capabilities, join the conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Key Capabilities


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.