Ford Going Nano

Ford intends to use nanotechnology in order to improve fuel consumption and reduce vehicle weight. The company is currently developing a thin, thermally sprayed nano-coating that is both wear-resistant and much lighter than the cast iron liners that are being used in cars today. By 2020, Ford plans to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 40 percent, by using nanotechnology to develop paints, plastics, light metals, and catalysts to produce lighter vehicles.
 Current day Ford Fusion model - By 2020, Ford plans to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 40 percent, by using nanotechnology (Credit: Ford).
Current day Ford Fusion model
– By 2020, Ford plans to improve fuel
efficiency by as much as 40 percent,
by using nanotechnology (Credit: Ford).

Ford’s exploration of nano-based systems dates back to the 1970s, when the company was already active in exhaust catalysis and emissions controls. In addition, Ford used scanning probe microscopes, which provided scientists with a better look at the nano level of matter. In order to better research commercial applications of nanotechnology, Ford formed an alliance with Boeing and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 2007.    

“Industry is becoming more efficient at creating nanoparticles,” said Matthew Zaluzec, Manager of the Materials Science & Nanotechnology Department for Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “Our challenge is to take those nanoparticles, separate them, and disperse them into existing materials in a way that makes our vehicles lighter, more durable, and more fuel efficient.”

Ford has been successful in reducing engine weight and increasing fuel efficiency by drawing a detailed analysis of the structure/property/process relationship of the aluminum alloy engine blocks from their study “Atoms to Engines”, which looked at the structure of cast aluminum alloys at near atomic levels.

“Many thought our aluminum engine technology was mature and fully optimized,” Zaluzec said. “Not until we looked at every aspect of the materials and manufacturing process were we able to pull out another 10 percent in structural performance out of our engines, which directly translates into weight and fuel economy savings year over year. It’s nano at the working level.”

Aside for the thin wear-resistant coating that Ford is currently developing, researchers are evaluating the possible applications of creating an improved vehicle exterior paint that might enhance paint adhesion, appearance, and durability by using advanced surface coating applications. Ford scientists are also working on developing smarter solutions to energy storage issues for alternative power sources, such as lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

TFOT recently covered Nokia’s Morph concept – a joint nanotechnology concept designed to demonstrate the future of mobile devices, which will be flexible, stretchable, and shape changing. TFOT also reported on a lubricant with an exceptionally low friction coefficient that was developed by scientists in the Argonne National Laboratory. The lubricant is based on boric acid particles 50 nanometers in diameter. Such nano-scaled particles offer both lubricity and stability when mixed with motor oil for industrial uses.

More information about Ford’s use of nanotechnology can be found here.

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