Lower weight. Better aerodynamics. More fuel efficiency. It’s the mantra of auto designers, engineers and manufacturers around the world looking for increased performance from conventional combustion engines, fuel cell vehicles, and hybrids alike.
Light and strong magnesium can add mightily to the equation, contributing to weight reduction by as much as 50%, depending on how and where it’s used in vehicle construction. But magnesium’s significant weight reduction potential can be countered by other factors, like manufacturing, mechanical property, and corrosion considerations, as well as material costs.
So, in lieu of an all-magnesium car, the questions remain: in a mixed-material vehicle that typically incorporates aluminum, carbon fiber, lightweight steel (vs. more traditional steel-dominated architecture) and other elements in varying proportions in its construction, where does magnesium fit best--in which components and systems? what are the engineering challenges magnesium poses? and how do engineers and material scientists arrive at the optimum solutions for its use.
Scientists identify an “ICME” approach as a primary way to understand and unravel those questions, an investigation that helps develop the tools necessary to maximize magnesium alloys’ properties in lightweight vehicle applications.
According to Wikipedia, “Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) is an approach to design products, the materials that comprise them, and their associated materials processing methods by linking materials models at multiple length scales. . . The focus is on the materials, i.e. understanding how processes produce material structures, how those structures give rise to material properties, and how to select materials for a given application.”
An ICME guide would look at the advantages and disadvantages of magnesium, and how it compares to other materials, with emphasis in areas such as:
--material availability and cost
--the metal’s ductility
--Mg castability and forging possibilities (e.g. forged magnesium wheels)
--Mg’s compatibility with other metals and existing manufacturing infrastructure
--coating performance (including products like “stainless magnesium”)
--stress/crash resistance; safety issues
--specific auto components including hoods, outer panels, etc.
The weight savings and performance potential of magnesium in automotive applications is unquestioned. Exploring magnesium’s unique mechanical properties, pursuing new technologies in alloying, formability, and corrosion protection; investigating costs/sustainability--and
researching all these with an integrated ICME methodology--will lead to the future development of both improved magnesium materials and fuel-efficient lightweight vehicles.
More information and current research data available through the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy at https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/vehicle-technologies-office
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