It was only a matter of time and engineering that carbon fibre wheels would make it on exotic cars good to see an Aussie company was the first to make them.
Carbon Revolution has Europe in wheel spin
Victorian company Carbon Revolution (previously CFusion) has the world’s major automobile manufacturers and clean technology experts keenly anticipating its first production run of the world’s first automobile wheel made in one piece from carbon fibre.
The genuine world first was the talk of the recent Fraunhofer Institute conference in Germany, where Carbon Revolution was the invited guest speaker as the recognised global leader in this technology.
Carbon Revolution's carbon fibre wheel has attracted enormous interest in Europe, which is considered the global car manufacturing industry leaders; especially in new technology validation. Carbon Revolution is also in active discussions with car manufacturers in the United States and in Australia.
Later this year, Carbon Revolution will start manufacturing from its first commercial production line in Geelong. This will be a pilot line of between 3000 to 6000 wheels per year - some of which will be the first saleable product with the remainder being for further testing and development activities.
Executive Chairman Jake Dingle, who has recently returned from Europe and the US, said the positive feedback from the Fraunhofer conference, significant progress with vehicle manufacturers and a meeting in Brussels with the European Commission, confirmed the company’s long-held belief that lightweight carbon fibre wheels are the way of the future for vehicle manufacturers.
“Clean technology in the motor vehicle manufacturing sector is vitally important and the Europeans are placing major importance in the latest fuel-saving and emission-reducing technology,” Jake said. “At the Geneva Motor Show last month, the huge emphasis on CO2 emissions and fuel economy was remarkably consistent across the whole industry, including performance and mainstream players alike.”
“Carbon dioxide emissions per km will continue to be a major selling point and our wheel can produce an improvement of six per cent in fuel economy, with the possibility of more savings with full integration into the next generation of lightweight vehicles. That’s very significant and the Europeans have a huge interest in our lightweight wheel for that reason.”
The European automotive industry’s certification and validation standards are considered to be the world’s toughest and Carbon Revolution has been working with manufacturers and certification bodies to ensure its wheel exceeds those requirements.
Carbon Revolution’s wheels deliver significant fuel savings versus conventional aluminium wheels as they are up to 50 percent lighter. This is achieved with equivalent or greater strength due to the superior mechanical properties of carbon fibre. They also provide improved acceleration, braking, suspension and cornering.
Carbon Revolution is commercialising the wheel, with help from the Australian Government’s Green Car Innovation Fund (GCIF) which forms part of the Government's A New Car Plan for a Greener Future. The company was awarded $1,811,069 from the GCIF to help complete product and process validation work ahead of full commercialisation. This included high-level testing in Germany with the Fraunhofer Engineering Institute and other major testing organisations.
Carbon Revolution’s manufacturing facility at Deakin University includes equipment and processes developed by the company specifically for the carbon fibre wheel, and the production line follows the clean and green model.
“We have added to our R&D facility at Deakin Uni to accommodate the production equipment for the first pilot production line later this year. It is purpose-built equipment and a very efficient manufacturing process with low temperatures and low energy usage.”
Carbon Revolution will investigate another Australian Government assistance initiative - the new $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program, which is to help Australian manufacturers to research, develop and commercialise clean technology products, processes and services. It will fund the development of a range of clean technologies including low emission and energy efficient solutions that reduce greenhouse emissions.
Carbon Revolution’s first full scale facility will produce 250,000 wheels a year, and is expected to be constructed through 2013 for commissioning in late 2013. This facility is anticipated to service the first major vehicle manufacturer contracts that the company is currently working towards as well as aftermarket sales to numerous offshore markets.
Employment opportunities could reach 180-200 skilled workers and there will be outsourced work and opportunities for local partners in areas such as equipment manufacturing, tool making, machining and finishing. These aspects of the process are not considered necessary to maintain inhouse.
In the longer term, facilities producing over 2 million parts per year are envisaged, to match the scale of conventional metal wheel manufacturing plants worldwide. This will be feasible once sufficient demand is generated and costs are at levels that are sufficiently competitive, which is possible given the efficient manufacturing process that Carbon Revolution has developed. At this scale the emission reduction benefits are very significant.
Since 2010 Carbon Revolution has been testing wheels in Germany at the Fraunhofer research facilities, IABG and TUV Sud. The testing has provided extremely positive results and highlighted the enormous benefits of the technology, not just from a weight perspective but also in terms of its exceptional durability and on impact resistance.
Jake said the GCIF grant has been “absolutely critical” for getting the wheel to the point of commercialisation and being able to sell it to the huge global market.
“The grant has enabled us to bring people with critical skills into the company,” Jake said. “We have also been able to build and test numerous prototypes and purchase plant and equipment, all of which will enable us to start manufacturing in 2012. The funding has significantly accelerated commercialisation activities.”
The wheel has been in development for more than seven years, with much of the initial research and design undertaken in partnership with Deakin University. The early concept development activities involved academics and students participating in the global university car design program - Formula SAE.