Low Cost Carbon Fiber for the Next Generation of Vehicles:Novel Technologies 2002-01-1906
Automobiles of the future will be forced to travel further on a tank of fuel while discharging lower levels of pollutants. Currently, the United States uses in excess of 18 million barrels of petroleum per day. Sixty-six percent is used in the transportation of people and goods. Highway vehicles currently account for just under two-thirds of the nation's gasoline consumption, and about one-third of the total United States energy usage  while contributing a significant amount to the annual U.S. air pollutant burden. In 1997, 57.5% of the carbon monoxide, 29.8% of the nitrogen oxides, 27.2% of the volatile organic compounds, and 23.8% of the carbon dioxide came from highway vehicles  The U.S. government has supported R&D pertinent to highway vehicles since the early 1960's, to mitigate these problems. The objective of the current Department of Energy programs is the development and eventual commercial application of new technologies that will enable the U.S. highway transportation industry to make significant contributions to the nation=s environmental goals while maintaining the superior transportation system that strengthens our economy. In the past three decades domestic (U.S.) automotive manufacturers have aggressively sought to develop technologies to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles while reducing their environmental impact and satisfying consumer needs. The founding of the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) has accelerated this effort by combining the resources of the automotive industry and the federal government.
Carbon fiber based materials have the potential to make the goals of government, industry and consumers a reality. Current global carbon fiber production capacity for commercial grade fiber is on the order of 50 million pounds per year. Current North American vehicle production is >18 million units per year. Just 10 pounds of carbon fiber in each North American vehicle would create a demand that is almost four times the current world production capacity. Such high volume production would dramatically alter the industry resulting in a number of other spin-off applications. To achieve such drastic industry scale-up will require changes to carbon fiber production technologies, production facilities, packaging, emission control procedures and possibly even changes in the precursors used to manufacture carbon fiber.