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Audi Evaluates Using Natural Fibers In Automotive Panels
5 years, 10 months ago Posted in: Manufacturers News 0

Audi investigates wood panels for car
The German maker hopes to cut the weight of its cars by using natural materials.

By Matt Campbell, Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

09/16/2011 — Audi is looking at natural materials derived from wood and volcanic rock to reduce the weight of its cars and thereby improve fuel consumption.

The maker is looking at using lignin, a wood-sourced bi-product of paper production, and basalt for exterior panels and components.

Audi says it hopes the use of natural fibres will lessen the overall environmental impact of the production of future cars, because carbon fibre, as its name suggests, has a significant environmental impact during the production process.

“Well we know very well the advantages of carbon fibre, but we also are quite familiar with the disadvantages of carbon fibre – that is, the high amount of energy that you have to utilise in producing it, so we’re working full steam ahead on other fibres as well.” says Audi’s head of lightweight technologies, Dr Lutz Elend.

“So when I say other fibres, I mean fibres such as basalt and we’re also talking about natural fibres as well, and that means, for instance, waste from paper mills, you can use waste fibres in this type of idea,” says Elend.

He explains that Audi has been looking into these naturally sourced fibre composite materials for about 18 months, and went on to suggest that the first real-world application of such fibres could be in a production version of the brand’s A2 concept which was revealed at the Frankfurt motor show.

But while the idea is a clever one, ensuring the fibre material is perfectly consistent may prove difficult.

Audi is looking to use unique lightweight fibres in its next-generation R8 supercar, including an electric version.

“You actually have nearly the same properties with these other fibres as you do with carbon fibre,” says Elend. “The problem that does exist is that the variance in the mechanical properties is much wider in range. And so we’re working very hard on this to eliminate this problem.”

One other significant disadvantage of lightweight materials is that they are extremely expensive to produce.

“Seventy to eighty per cent of the cost for fibre parts actually are incurred by the manufacturing process,” says Elend, explaining that the costs passed on to the consumer would be lessened if the production process was less energy-intensive.

“Initially you have to look at the production process because that’s where you have much more potential for achieving these savings. And we’re working with German engineering company Voigth on process automation there, and the amount of economy that you can achieve in this field is actually much higher than you can achieve in the field of fibres.”

The natural alternative to carbon fibre may be a few years off, but Audi is also planning on extending the use of aluminium across its range.

Dr Elend says the next-generation R8 supercar – which Drive was shown in a secret meeting room on the brand’s elaborate stand at the Frankfurt motor show – will be constructed of a mixture of aluminium and carbon fibre-reinforce plastic, with weight reductions of about 100 kilograms expected.

More dramatically, Elend says the next-generation Audi Q7 SUV will drop its kerb weight by a mammoth 350 kilograms due to the extended use of aluminium body parts.

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