Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn today announced it would expand the use of graphene — a two-dimensional nano-material — in vehicle parts. The automaker says it is expanding the use of graphene beyond current applications in paint, polymer, and battery applications.
Dubbed a “miracle material” by some engineers, graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and one of the most conductive materials in the world. In addition, it acts as a suitable sound barrier, and is extremely thin and flexible.
Graphene is not economically viable for all applications, but Ford, in collaboration with Eagle Industries in Wixom and XG Sciences in Lansing, has found a way to use small amounts in fuel rail covers, pump covers, and front engine covers to maximize its benefits.
“The breakthrough here is not in the material, but in how we are using it,” says Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials, at Ford. “We are able to use a very small amount, less than a half percent, 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, dubbed graphene. The experiment won a Nobel Prize in 2010.
In 2014, Ford began working with suppliers to study the material and how to use it in 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,” says John Bull, president of Eagle Industries.
The graphene is mixed with foam constituents, and tests done by Ford and suppliers has shown about a 17 percent reduction in noise, a 20 percent improvement in mechanical properties, and a 30 percent 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,” says Philip Rose, CEO of XG Sciences. “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 by year-end on more than 10 under hood components on the Ford F-150 and Mustang, and eventually, other Ford vehicles.