Here’s a look at four technologies that could make cars more environmentally friendly.

Efficient_Car_ChartAs the auto industry faces tougher fuel-economy standards, engineers are working on longer-term fixes for what ails today’s models: too much weight, inefficient engines, a troubled fuel source for gasoline-powered cars and recalcitrant batteries in electric ones. Here’s a look at four technologies that could make cars more environmentally friendly.

Cutting a car’s weight is one of the best ways to boost fuel economy. And one way to reduce weight is to replace some of the steel in a car’s body with a material called carbon fiber.

But carbon fiber is too expensive for widespread use—it costs at least four times as much as steel by weight. That’s why its use has been limited to luxury vehicles such as the Audi R8 and racing cars, along with some airplanes and golf clubs.

Now, researchers hope to make automotive-grade carbon fiber using a process similar to how knitting yarn is created. The development could lower the price of carbon fiber by as much as 25%.

And reducing weight in one vehicle part can cut weigh elsewhere by allowing the use of lighter-weight supporting parts. “For every pound you take out of a vehicle, there is usually a corresponding 30% reduction in the need for weight in other areas of the vehicle,” said Jay Baron, the director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., who is a materials expertCarbon fiber is a thin strand of repeating carbon molecules lined up in parallel, an arrangement that makes them incredibly strong. These tiny filaments are wound into strands that are subsequently turned into a fabric. The fabric is then combined with a glue-like chemical and hardened into the final shape of a car part, such as a hood or trunk lid.

The knitting-yarn breakthrough was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Researchers later persuaded a yarn factory in Lisbon, Portugal, to set up a portion of its plant to produce the product, said David Warren, the manager of transportation materials at Oak Ridge Lab.

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Source: Mike Ramsey | The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Viktor Koen | The Wall Street Journal