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Carbon Fiber and Plastics Driving Automotive Innovation

The growing trend toward “lightweighting” vehicles is driven in large part by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel efficiency standards mandating 54.5 miles per gallon for auto fleets by 2025.

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According to the U.S. Department of Energy, automobile components made with advanced composite materials could reduce the weight of passenger cars by half and improve fuel efficiency by nearly 35 percent. That’s one of the primary reasons that automakers are ramping up use of composite auto parts made with carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) in their vehicles.

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The growing trend toward “lightweighting” vehicles through use of lighter, advanced materials such as CFRP is driven in large part by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel efficiency standards mandating 54.5 miles per gallon for auto fleets by 2025. In addition, buyers of new vehicles say fuel economy remains the most influential factor in determining which vehicle they select, according to a survey by J.D. Power.

CFRP are both lightweight and especially strong, up to 10 times stronger than steel, 50 percent lighter than steel and 30 percent lighter than aluminum.

“The combination of carbon fiber and lightweight plastics creates an advanced composite matrix, something much tougher than either material could be on its own,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, which sponsors the Plastics Make it Possible initiative. “These advanced materials will help automakers reach their fuel efficiency goals, reduce emissions and save consumers money at the pump.”

In addition to improved fuel efficiency, CFRP components can contribute to safety since they can absorb up to 12 times more crash energy than steel.

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