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Joining efforts to advance vehicle sustainability

Jenifer Locke in the laboratory.As part of her research, Jenifer Locke and her team will also compare corrosion-related performance of RSR joints to conventional joining techniques.

Materials science and engineering researchers at The Ohio State University are working to make vehicles lighter and more fuel-efficient—through the materials used and the way they’re joined—in order to reduce emissions and fuel consumption in passenger cars and trucks.

Four Buckeye engineers are leading or contributing to more than $12 million in Department of Energy-funded research focused on advancing vehicle sustainability. The grants, supported by the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, are part of a $57 million federal investment in 35 new projects aimed at reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of plug-in electric, alternative fuel and conventional vehicles.

“These investments will accelerate the development of innovative vehicle technologies that will save businesses and consumers money at the pump, cut carbon emissions and strengthen our economy,” said DOE Acting Assistant Secretary David Friedman.

Ohio State Materials Science and Engineering Professor Glenn Daehn and his colleagues received $2.7 million to further develop vaporizing foil actuator welding (VFAW) as a viable technology for creating multi‐material, lightweight vehicles. It addresses one of the biggest issues in developing affordable, lightweight vehicles, by enabling the joining of advanced and dissimilar metals without producing joints that are much weaker than the base metals.

“VFAW consumes less than one-fifth of the energy than a common welding technique yet creates bonds that are 50 percent stronger,” said Daehn.

Buckeyes are also part of the research team on three of the Vehicle Technology Office awards made in the area of corrosion protection and dissimilar material joining. 

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Jenifer Locke will work with Arconic (formerly Alcoa) and Honda on a breakthrough resistance spot riveting (RSR) method to join aluminum and steel. By marrying conventional resistance spot welding with self-piercing rivets, the technique can connect nearly every material automakers are considering for vehicles through the next ten years.

“The hope here is to provide a 1.5 to 3 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and an additional 10 to 20 percent weight reduction over a full steel vehicle,” Locke said. 

As part of her research, Jenifer Locke and her team will also compare corrosion-related performance of RSR joints to conventional joining techniques.Locke and her research team will examine the galvanic corrosion resistance of RSR joints of steel to aluminum and aluminum to carbon fiber composites, as well as the ability of protection strategies to protect those joints against galvanic corrosion. Her team will also compare corrosion-related performance of RSR joints to conventional joining techniques.   

DNV Designated Chair Gerald Frankel, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Locke will partner with PPG Industries to develop new coating and adhesives that enable carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic/aluminum closure panels and validate corrosion testing methods.

Alan Luo, professor of materials science and engineering, will team up with the United States Automotive Materials Partnership to investigate the use of magnesium sheet for vehicle applications, while tackling the major challenges of alloying, stamping, joining and corrosion protection.

“Magnesium is one of the lightest structural metals available and can reduce the weight of vehicle components more than 50 percent,” Luo explained.

Joining dissimilar materials for automotive applications presents a real challenge in joining technology, its durability and its resistance to corrosion over the life of the vehicle, Locke explained. 

“Ohio State, with its Fontana Corrosion Center, is one of, if not the best, universities conducting research in the area of corrosion and environmental degradation,” Locke said. “And Ohio State is the only university with world-renowned expertise in both corrosion and joining.”