Green energy continues to blaze the path of transportation technology development. Electric vehicles (EVs) stand at the forefront of this trend. Companies like Tesla, Karma, Bollinger Motors, Rivian, Nikola, and Ford are pushing ahead full force with plans to develop electric vehicles that are economically viable for the broad market.
They still have much work to do, however. EVs remain constrained to a driving range that falls short of the needs of commuters, the trucking industry, or anyone intent on a long road trip. EV manufacturers need to extend their range and reduce their retail prices to a level most businesses and consumers can afford.
Both private investors and the federal government are behind this effort. The stock prices of EV makers continue to reflect a belief in their ultimate takeover of the market. The new administration is proposing an infrastructure bill to include the construction of a nationwide network of EV charging stations that will make long-distance EV travel a reality.
But EV range and efficiency still needs improvement. Short ranges not only make travel difficult and time consuming, but they also add to the cost of operating a vehicle. This two-headed snake keeps gasoline powered vehicles in favor, for now.
To solve this problem, EV makers must construct lighter vehicles. The adoption of lightweight materials for batteries, engines, and bodies are especially important because EVs must operate efficiently while carrying the weight of safety equipment, entertainment systems, comfort features, passengers and cargo.
This has presented a golden opportunity for sheet metal fabricators such as Prototech. Those that can provide light weight steel and aluminum are positioned to benefit from a tectonic increase in the demand for these metals.
Prototech has worked with nearly every major EV company out there including Telsa, Karma, GM and Bollinger Motors. Several years ago, Prototech executives put forth a concept called the 21st Century Autobody Solutions. In essence, the objective put forth a vehicle design that eliminated parts on the vehicle by way of the latest sheet metal technologies. The outcome was very impactful. The project design resulted in a vehicle that was lighter, stronger, safer and more cost effective. All important factors in the evolution of the EV movement.
Why Curb Weight Is So Important to the Development of the EV Market
A 10% decrease in the curb weight of a vehicle increases its fuel efficiency by 6% to 8%. Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with light weight metals, such as high-strength steel, magnesium alloys, and aluminum alloys, can reduce the body and chassis weight of a vehicle by up to 50%. At a 6% to 8% efficiency increase per 10% of reduced weight, EVs can travel 30% to 40% farther based on the use of lightweight materials.
Batteries also contribute to EVs weight problem. Light weight metals are needed to construct more efficient batteries. These materials are especially important because EV makers need to increase the capacity of these batteries without adding to their weight and cancelling some or all the gains.
The Limits of Battery Capacity Increases
Over the past ten years, battery technology has advanced rapidly enough to lead to far denser solutions, increasing the distance limits of EVs. However, most battery researchers agree that future advances will likely lead to modest improvements. Therefore, reducing curb weight will be even more important and require an aggressive effort by OEMs.
Other Factors Driving the Trend Toward Lower Curb Weight
The use of high-strength steels and alternatives such as carbon fiber are also driving the trend toward lower curb weight. Lower weight vehicles and the use of steel substitutes will decrease the need for minerals, ultimately allowing supplies to last longer and cost less. The following are some of the material pitfalls that may affect the EV industry.
The Environmental Impact of Lithium Mining
EV batteries require lithium to function. Unfortunately, mining it consumes an estimated 500,000 gallons of water per ton. This massive water use has caused environmental problems that are gaining attention. In addition, the scarcity of water in these mining areas is equally concerning for the EV OEMs.
For example, half the world’s known lithium reserves are in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Intense lithium mining in these countries has led to water shortages that hurt the local agricultural industry. In addition, many poisons leak from lithium evaporation ponds, which can contaminate water and destroy downstream fish populations. All of these issues will have to be addressed as the industry becomes mainstream.
Vulnerable Supply Chains
The pandemic has shown how vulnerable supply chains can cause major disruptions. A potential shift in the ability to obtain raw materials could increase domestic demand for light weight metals, a possible boon for American sheet metal fabricators such as Prototech.
Golden Opportunity for Prototech and other Sheet Metal Fabricators
Demand for EVs with acceptable driving range has led vehicle manufacturers to aggressively seek solutions to make their products viable on the broad market. Recent developments in battery technology have helped, but more range is still needed. Reducing the weight of the vehicles is the next step in EV evolution, which is leading to increased demand for light weight steel and aluminum. For Prototech, this presents a golden opportunity.
The company has been working with high-strength steel, carbon fiber and aluminum for many years which has benefitted its EV customers greatly. They have also been occasionally charged to help with design in order to help reduce parts, increase strength and stiffness, all while reducing the overall weight of the vehicle. These new design techniques now widely practiced by the electric car manufacturers will be critical in years to come to usher the automotive industry into a new era of electric car use across the globe.
Prototech Laser located in Chesterfield MI is a national leader in laser cutting and metal fabrication services. We have over two decades of laser and program management expertise in providing state of the art laser, plasma cutting, forming, machining, welding and more. If you have questions regarding metal fabrication and laser cutting services, call and speak with a Specialist today.