Fueling Innovation

GW’s crash analysis center receives grant to study the safety of light-weight materials.

March 29, 2010

With higher fuel-efficiency standards looming just down the road, GW’s National Crash Analysis Center has been awarded a grant to help test the safety of light-weight materials that could be used to meet the new rules, finalized by the Obama administration on April 1.

The NCAC’s crash impact simulations, to be developed under a $200,000 grant from the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, will allow the center to determine which automotive parts would benefit from these materials and where they could most safely be placed.

“This research is a small step in designing better vehicles for the future,” says Steve Kan, the director of NCAC, who will spearhead the project. “Light weight materials, such as composites and thermoplastics, will be increasingly used in future vehicles to improve fuel economy. The research effort will help to develop computer simulation models of these materials. It will help engineers and researchers in automotive industries to design safer vehicles with better fuel efficiency.”

The research grant, announced March 29, is scheduled to be completed in February 2011.

On April 1, the Obama administration finalized regulations that will require vehicles to attain an average fuel economy of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, four years faster than previously planned. According to Pradeep Mohan, another member of the GW research team, strategically placed composite materials can replace steel, therefore lowering the weight of vehicles and increasing fuel economy.

“For every 10 percent that you lose in weight, there is a six to eight percent increase in fuel efficiency,” says Dr. Mohan. “This will be the trend, the multi-material vehicle that is safer and more fuel efficient.”

The grant from the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a not-for-profit collaborative manufacturing research consortium, was awarded to a partnership between GW’s NCAC; L&L Products, a materials manufacturer; and Ontonix, a specialist in design optimization software.

The NCAC will work closely with L&L to develop material models and utilize the center’s computer simulation technology to create better predictive analysis tools.

Drs. Kan and Mohan and GW research faculty Kennerly Digges and Dhafer Marzougui, along with 12 other researchers from NCAC, will work on the project.

“GW’s reputation of using simulation and advanced computer research is what helped us secure the grant,” said Dr. Kan. “NCAC relies on simulating these scenarios on high-performance computers, because it saves time and maximizes research dollars and ultimately helps to save lives.”

Over the years, GW researchers have worked extensively on various aspects of vehicle safety, including seat manufacturing and child safety research. The NCAC has worked with numerous federal government agencies, as well as automobile manufacturers, including Ford, Hyundai Kia and Nissan.

The NCAC, housed at GW’s Science and Technology Campus in Ashburn, Va., is a collaborative effort between the university, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

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