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Sunderland to revolutionalise automotive industry with wonder material

A research project to develop a lighter, stronger and more energy-efficient vehicles using graphene is being led by the University of Sunderland.

Professor Ahmed Elmarakbi, University of Sunderland

Graphene, a material made from a single layer of carbon atoms, is stronger than diamond, lightweight and flexible. The European Commission is investing £1bn as part of the Graphene Flagship, which aims to take graphene-related technologies from academic laboratories to everyday use in multiple industries, creating economic growth and new jobs in Europe. The University of Sunderland, working with a consortium of five research partners from Italy, Spain and Germany, has been selected as a partner for its iGCAuto proposal, which will see the group conduct a series of tests analysing the properties of graphene to determine how it behaves when it’s used to enhance the advanced composite materials used in the production of cars.
The automotive industry is widely viewed as being the industry in which the greatest volume of advanced composite materials will be used in the future to produce light-weight vehicles. However, due to the trade-off between light vehicles and safety standards, new directions need to be adopted to overcome safety issues.

In this project, a novel graphene-based polymer material will be investigated, modelled, and designed to enhance both vehicle and occupant safety yet remain very light. This material will provide benefits such as improved strength, dimensional stability, and superior durability.

High-level collaboration

iGCAuto will address the gap between light vehicles and safety through the establishment of a high-level collaboration. The particular strength of this project is that it brings together the necessary expertise to develop novel graphene-based polymer composite materials and to then assess and predict their safety behaviour and long-term performance under severe conditions. This enhanced understanding will inform asset owners and managers and lead to improved design strategies. Professor Ahmed Elmarakbi, from Sunderland’s Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, initiated the idea and is driving the project forward.

Facing challenges

“The global automotive industry is currently facing great challenges, such as CO2 emissions and safety issues. The development and manufacture of environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient, and safe vehicles (EESVs) is a great solution to these challenges. Our goal is that the future of EESVs is achieved by a combination of novel materials concepts with safety design approaches through the development and optimisation of advanced ultra-light grapheme-based polymer materials, efficient fabrication and manufacturing processes, and life-cycle analysis to reduce the environmental impact of the vehicle. “We have formed a consortium which comprises some of the best researchers in graphene materials and vehicle light-weighting in the world. The grant opportunity allows the consortium to aim to deliver fundamental solutions to the key challenges faced by the future development of EESVs. A key part of our project is building strong collaborations with world-class researchers who will be able to develop, understand and predict the behaviour of the new graphene composites. Such a predictive ability will be a big step forward in bringing graphene composites to real-world automotive applications.”