At the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researchers are developing knowledge and technologies that accelerate the deployment of new vehicles and efficient transportation systems powered by domestic, renewable, clean energy.
Many of these innovations are featured this week alongside ORNL’s 3-D printed utility vehicle at the SAE World Congress in Detroit. Below is a sampling of the technologies included in the display.
Development of these technologies is supported by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office in partnership with industry.
This unique utility vehicle provides a research platform for plug-and-play evaluation of new technologies. It features a hybrid electric powertrain with a single engine fueled by natural gas that extends vehicle range and produces enough power to run both the car and a 3D printed building—all part of ORNL’s innovative energy-sharing project called AMIE (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy).
CF8C-Plus cast austenitic steels developed by ORNL are low-cost, high-performance alternatives to conventional cast steels. Caterpillar used 550 tons of CF8C-Plus steel to make the regeneration system burner housing for diesel particulate filters, saving millions of dollars over the cost associated with housings incorporating cast nickel-based superalloys. Caterpillar’s Regeneration System employed the technology to make 45,000 units for use with heavy-duty highway diesel engines, many of which are still on the road today.
MetalTek International cast prototype exhaust manifolds out of ORNL-developed CF8C-Plus stainless steel. In collaboration with Cummins, researchers evaluated candidate alloys on-engine using a severe marine cycle for 500 hours and found that CF8C-Plus demonstrated superior properties for use in marine diesel engine exhaust manifolds.
Researchers are creating inverters that are lighter, more powerful, and more efficient using novel semiconductors and unique designs enabled by additive manufacturing. The first prototype inverter featuring wide bandgap materials and 50% printed parts demonstrated an operating efficiency of nearly 99%, surpassing DOE power electronics targets and setting the stage for more innovative designs that use these materials and manufacturing capabilities to fullest advantage.
ORNL is improving the fuel efficiency and extending the range of miniature engines for remote-controlled airplanes, which could be implemented in military surveillance systems. Researchers used additive manufacturing capabilities to print the engine head out of titanium and to install special sensor ports. Engine, fuel, and emissions R&D encompasses projects like this aviation engine and focuses on new technologies for light- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Using the advantages of additive manufacturing, researchers are developing novel concepts and prototypes that increase efficiency and reduce component weight. Electric drive technologies are a primary area of focus for exploring new geometries enabled by 3-D printing. These printed motor pieces are an example of the development underway for additively manufactured vehicle technologies.
R&D focuses on low-cost raw materials such as renewable woody plants and more efficient manufacturing methods such as microwave assisted plasma processing. At ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, textile acrylic fiber—like that used in socks and sweaters—is converted into carbon fiber for use in lightweight, high strength components for vehicles and other applications. This production method could reduce the cost of carbon fiber by as much as 50 percent and the energy used to produce it by more than 60 percent.
Novel concepts for electric motors are designed to reduce or eliminate the use of rare earth materials while maintaining high power density, specific power, and efficiency. Most electric and hybrid electric vehicles on the road today have motors that use rare earth permanent magnets. The US currently imports most rare earth materials, so researchers are focusing on this area as a matter of national energy security.
Researchers are developing battery technologies that will extend battery lifetime and range, reduce battery size, and increase cost savings for America’s drivers. Water-based processing for lithium-ion batteries is a good example. This technology maintains battery capacity while reducing costs and benefiting the environment through the use of deionized water in place of expensive, toxic, flammable processing solvents.
ORNL developed a new type of friction stir welding called Multilayered Multipass Friction Stir Welding that eliminates limitations on the thickness of structures. Tensile tests show this revolutionary solid-state joining process creates welds that are stronger than the original materials. Different materials can be incorporated into the weld to tailor the composition and properties of the welded region. ORNL is applying this technology to the development of steel-concrete composite underground tanks for hydrogen storage.
Friction bit joining combines the advantages of self-piercing riveting with frictional heating and metallurgical bonding of sheet metals. It is especially suited for joining dissimilar metals where the differences in chemical make-up limit the effectiveness of traditional joining methods to create strong bonds. The addition of the mechanical bit facilitates bonding and increases the strength of the weld. ORNL is collaborating with industry and university partners to use this technology in lightweight vehicle applications.
ORNL has developed high power (20 kW) wireless charging technology that can charge an electric vehicle battery with 90 percent efficiency at three times the rate of plug-in systems commonly used for electric vehicles today. This inductive charging process uses a magnetic field to transfer energy across an air gap between coils on the ground and coils on the underside of the vehicle. Researchers have retrofitted a small fleet of Toyota vehicles with this technology.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy