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Superstrong, Low-Cost Wood for Lightweight Vehicles

University of Maryland (UMD)
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,589,882
Location: 
College Park, MD
Project Term: 
08/23/2019 to 08/22/2022
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Passenger cars, trucks and railcars consume 95 billion gallons of gasoline in the U.S. per year, or 31.2% of total fossil fuel consumption. Using lightweight materials is a key strategy to increased fuel savings.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
The University of Maryland will further develop its "super wood" approach to replace steel in the automotive industry. Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with lightweight materials, such as magnesium and aluminum alloys, and polymer composites can directly reduce a vehicle's body weight by up to 50%, and consequently its fuel consumption. But most of these materials either have a high cost or performance issues. Super wood is a composite of cellulose nanofibers, which are stronger than most metals and composites. The densified wood has a unique microstructure, in which the fully collapsed wood cell walls are tightly intertwined along their cross-section and densely packed along their length. Over three years, the project will improve super wood's properties to withstand pressure of 1 gigapascal (or 145,038 pounds per square inch), and meet the requirements of a low-cost automotive structural material. The super wood could reduce vehicle manufacturing costs by 10-20% and manufacturing energy by up to 80% on a component level and by about 28% on a vehicle level. The team will focus on proof-of-concept demonstrations of floor panels, seating, and roof panels, as well as super wood's potential extension into the construction industry.
Potential Impact: 
Super wood could greatly reduce vehicle cost and increase fuel economy without sacrificing safety, potentially making cars more affordable and attractive to consumers, and reducing greenhouse gases created by the transportation sector.
Security: 
Increasing the efficiency of vehicles would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Environment: 
Super wood solely consists of wood that is renewable, cost-effective and abundant in the U.S.; the manufacturing process is sustainable and energy-efficient with nearly zero CO2 emissions during super wood's life cycle.
Economy: 
Reducing vehicle weight 10% results in a 6-8% fuel economy improvement, equivalent to more than 7 billion gallons of fuel savings annually. The existing wood industry infrastructure can be adapted to manufacture super wood.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Prof. Liangbing Hu
Partners
University of California, San Diego
Inventwood LLC
Ohio State University
Release Date: 
11/15/2018