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Industry drives Canadian research effort to build lighter and greener vehicles

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The North American auto industry is about to go on a diet and that's good news for automakers, consumers and the environment. Automotive Partnership Canada (APC) and four Canadian companies are contributing $6 million towards an industry-led effort to make vehicles up to 40 percent lighter by replacing components comprised of traditional, low carbon steel with advanced, high strength steel, aluminum and magnesium—the lightest of all structural metals.

"Lightweighting" of vehicles has become a top priority for automakers and their suppliers. It's considered the most cost-effective way to cut carbon dioxide emissions and lower energy consumption in the transportation sector.

Magnesium weighs 35 percent less than aluminum and 78 percent less than steel, putting it on par with many plastics. The goal is to reduce vehicle weight by as much as 50 percent by the year 2020.

The Government of Canada's Lightweight Materials Innovation Strategy estimates that every 10 percent reduction in weight can improve fuel efficiency by six percent for conventional vehicles, and extend the driving range of an electric vehicle by four percent on a single charge. It's a strong incentive for companies to innovate.

However, the research challenges are significant. Magnesium easily corrodes, which may compromise safety in the event of a crash. This new project will focus on developing a multi-material lightweight vehicle architecture that combines magnesium alloys, high-strength steels and aluminum. How these metals are joined—whether rivets, adhesives or welding—will be critical to increasing strength and avoiding corrosion.

Industry partner Huys Industries expects to use the research results to expand its product and processes portfolio through the development of new spot welding technologies. The project will also develop design guidelines for using magnesium alloys in multi-material structures.

The APC project builds on Canada's efforts to create a technology cluster where automotive companies can access world-class analytical and experimental testing resources related to lightweight, multi-material structures. Read more...