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Materials to Reduce Weight & Improve Efficiency in Electric Vehicles

Electric and hybrid-electric vehicles have been working their way into our world for the past few decades now, and more and more parking spaces are equipped with electric vehicle charging stations. However, electric vehicles don’t come without their challenges. The weight of the vehicle is a big barrier to having a vehicle run for long solely on electric power, but some lighter materials can reduce the weight of a vehicle without compromising strength and durability.

The Challenge of Electric Vehicles

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to vehicles is balancing weight with fuel power. Any motor-operated vehicle has the same concern, whether it’s a go-cart or a rocket ship: the heavier the vehicle, the more energy (and therefore fuel) it needs to move.

This is tricky for electric vehicles because battery cells add weight. The heavier the car, the more battery cells it needs, which also makes the car weigh more. So when it comes to designing an electric vehicle, every ounce counts to maximize the distance a car can go on electric power alone.

Car bodies are most often made of steel, which is strong and durable, but also pretty heavy—especially for electric power to move on its own. Plastic and fiberglass parts in modern cars, such as front bumpers and rear fenders, help bring weight down, as well as aluminum roofs and deck lids. But a steel unibody is still a common and hefty chunk of a vehicle’s weight.

Iron, another heavy metal, is often cast into engine blocks for vehicles for many reasons, including durability and heat resistance.

Lighter Alternatives for Electric Vehicles

Reducing the overall weight of a vehicle improves its fuel efficiency, whether the fuel is gasoline or electricity. In the case of electricity, lighter cars can travel farther distances with smaller batteries, making them more effective for regular use.

There a few materials that can be used to reduce the weight of a vehicle:

  • Aluminum alloys
  • Magnesium alloys
  • Carbon fiber composites

Aluminum Alloys

Aluminum alloys are already used in engine blocks to improve weight over cast iron. However, they require a little bit of extra care to protect them from warping under extreme temperatures in combustion engines. “Extra care” mostly means getting that oil change on time and keeping an eye on the temperature gauge.

Aluminum alloys are about one-third the weight of steel and slightly less than half the weight of iron. They’re also comparable in strength to steel, making them a good replacement for steel in car bodies. Some body pieces, like cabin roofs, are already manufactured with aluminum alloys for some vehicles.

Magnesium Alloys

Magnesium alloys tend to weigh a little less than aluminum alloys, with comparable strength. They have a lower density and greater stiffness than aluminum alloys. However, magnesium alloys are more temperature sensitive, and strength can be compromised at temperatures as low as 200°F (93°C), or slightly less than that of boiling water. While not ideal for high-temperature engine blocks, magnesium alloys do have a fairly high corrosion resistance, and when treated properly, corrode much more slowly than steel.

Carbon Fiber Composites

Carbon fiber is touted for its superior strength compared to its weight. Carbon fiber composites blend carbon fibers with epoxy to create light, durable pieces for use in a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, and sporting goods.

One aspect of carbon fiber composites that make it beneficial for vehicles is its temperature resistance. When paired with the right epoxy, carbon fiber parts can withstand heat and pressure and won’t deform over time. This makes it great for wheels, but carbon fiber is finding its way into plenty of places in vehicles for functional and aesthetic reasons.

Carbon Fiber as a Battery in Electric Vehicles

Carbon fiber is an exceptionally unique material, especially for electric vehicles. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a carbon fiber that can act as an electrode, making this form of carbon fiber a battery.

The carbon fiber they produced has more randomly oriented carbon crystals than traditional carbon fiber, which improves its electrochemical properties. This means that a vehicle with parts made from this carbon fiber could store energy in those parts. Instead of needing to add extra battery cells, a car with this carbon fiber could use those parts as battery cells.

The technology is still in development, but researchers are working with automobile manufacturers to test its functionality in a vehicle. In theory, a material like this could eliminate the need for a heavy battery in an electric vehicle.

PCMI Casting Solutions for Electric Vehicles

At PCMI, our roots are in the automotive industry, and we’re ready to help usher in a new era of electric vehicles. We offer die casting solutions with a variety of aluminum and magnesium alloys perfect for lightweight EV parts. Our proprietary carbon fiber casting process also reduces cycle rates compared to traditional methods.

Learn more about our process for prototyping to mid-volume part production through the link below.

Discover Our Process