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Driving a Clean Energy Future with Ultralight Autos

A transition to a clean energy future cannot happen without ending our addiction to oil, and we cannot do that without dramatically improving the fuel efficiency of our cars. Oil fuels 94 percent of our transportation system; cars alone use about 8.8 million barrels of oil per day, accounting for half of all U.S. consumption.

Making cars lighter is the single most effective way to dramatically and immediately wean our transportation system off oil. Lighter cars both improve the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles and pave the way to an oil- and emissions-free transportation era by enabling the cost-effective electrification of powertrains with smaller and less expensive batteries.

A key enabler of automotive lightweighting is carbon fiber composites, thanks to their unparalleled potential to produce ultralight cars while maintaining or exceeding vehicle safety, robustness, and performance standards and expectations. Now, thanks in large part to federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that require automakers to achieve 54.5 mile per gallon by model year 2025, lightweighting efforts are getting more attention—and priority—than ever.

Driving Industry Collaboration to Identify Solutions

In November 2012, RMI launched in Detroit an autocomposites initiative to drive this transition to widespread carbon fiber adoption in the automotive industry. This event represented the first time that key decision makers and technology drivers across the automotive and carbon fiber industries convened to tackle barriers and develop the pathway to scale adoption of automotive carbon fiber composites.

At the workshop, these diverse stakeholders reached a consensus that a parts-based approach, along with ongoing industry collaboration, offers the most viable path to industry transformation. At the conclusion of the workshop, industry leaders looked to RMI to lead further collaboration.

Projected Goals and Outcomes

To spur a transition to a fossil-fuel-free transportation era, RMI has developed a two-pronged approach that will continue to encourage innovation and collaboration in the industry, while addressing automakers’ unique scale, dynamic history, and business and policy environment.

  • Innovation Hub: Based in Detroit, the Hub will facilitate knowledge sharing and provide access to shared test rigs and manufacturing equipment. This Hub will foster collaboration among automakers, their supply chains, government, advanced tooling manufacturers, and industry experts.
  • Parts Campaign: Working with the industry, RMI will recruit and assemble competent and competitive CF composite automotive manufacturing team(s) to design and produce a CF composite part for a 2018 model year vehicle at a volume of 50,000 units or greater.


Invest With Us in a Brighter Energy Future

Today, our unprecedented mobility comes with huge costs and risks. Two billion dollars a day is plucked from Americans’ pockets to buy petroleum, half of which is paid to foreign countries, some of them considered national security threats. Its hidden costs, paid not at the pump but through taxes and healthcare, total roughly one and a half trillion dollars a year, or 12 percent of GDP—far more than our total energy bill.

In Reinventing Fire, RMI outlined a vision of a transportation system by 2050 that uses no oil. This vision hinges on U.S. cars reaching fuel efficiencies of 125–240 miles per gallon. Our transportation system must achieve dramatic and transformative gains in efficiency if the U.S. is to achieve energy independence and required emissions reductions.

Including just one part on four mainstream models would double total automotive demand for carbon fiber; four parts on eight mainstream models would double total worldwide demand for carbon fiber. This multiplying demand for automotive-grade carbon fiber would drive down costs, spur material R&D, and enhance the business case for CF composite-intensive vehicles.

Most importantly, lighter cars pave the way to an oil-and emissions-free transportation era because they can be cost-effectively electrified thanks to smaller, lighter, more efficient powertrains and require fewer batteries.

RMI is recognized as an important thought leader in the automotive industry, starting with groundbreaking design work on a revolutionary CFC-intensive vehicle known as the Hypercar in the 1990s. RMI has since spun off three advanced manufacturing and automotive companies, including Fiberforge and Bright Automotive.

Our data-driven approach, technical competence, and hands-on industry experience, combined with its nonaligned, mission-driven position allows RMI to play a central and critical role facilitating cooperation in a competitive industry.

Will you be part of it?

Learn more about RMI's past lightweighting work here

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