The Graphene Flagship, Europe's $1 billion graphene research initiative, has summed up its progress in advancing graphene-based innovations for automotive in the last ten years. The project examines, among other topics, how graphene can address key challenges in the automotive sector, such as fuel efficiency, recycling, and environmental impact.
Graphene has the potential to drive significant advancements in the automotive industry — from strengthening structural components to improving electrochemical energy storage (i.e., Batteries) efficiency and safety in electric cars as well as enhancing the performance of the self-driving car. The Graphene Flagship has orchestrated a number of projects researching the benefits of graphene in automotive applications and how vehicles can be improved. The Graphene Flagship reports it is now seeing this research and development come to fruition. Listed below are the automotive-related advancements that were achieved.
In collaboration with several industrial partners including, Nanesa and Centro Rierche Fiat in Italy, the G+BOARD Graphene-enhanced steering wheel and dashboard project incorporates graphene-based materials to create a lightweight and efficient alternative. By using electro-thermal conductive graphene-polyurethane coatings, the G+BOARD offers faster, more efficient, and uniform heating at low manufacturing costs. This innovation reduces fuel consumption and enhances dismantling and recycling procedures, aligning with the automotive industry’s environmental goals.
Additionally, the project has developed a graphene-based conductive composite dashboard, facilitating easier installation, lighter weight, improved fuel efficiency and end-of-life recyclability. Improving the weight of vehicles will be crucial for the mass deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) in coming years.
Currently, self-driving cars use visible cameras, but in dense, low visibility scenarios, these cameras are insufficient. Future autonomous cars will use LIDAR sensors, relying on pulsed laser to measure distances and constantly scan the area around them.
The AUTOVISION project focuses on enhancing the safety of self-driving cars in adverse weather conditions. By integrating graphene-based image sensors, developed in collaboration with industrial partners Aixtron in the UK and Veoneer in Sweden, the project aims to improve the performance of camera systems. These advanced sensors offer improved visibility, enabling safer driving experiences when in challenging weather conditions. This project has also fostered the development of Graphene Flagship spin-off, Qurv, a company that centres on imaging technology for next generation computer vision solutions.
Lubricants, oils and anticorrosion paints
In partnership with various organizations, the Graphene Flagship has explored the integration of graphene in automotive components to enhance performance and sustainability. The use of graphene in oil pans allows for efficient heating of the oil due to the high thermal conductivity of graphene. This addresses issues related to low-temperature viscosity and improving vehicle functionality during winter.
Vehicles that use pressurized oil in their hydraulic power steering are at risk of malfunctions if, for example, the vehicle is parked outside during winter, as oil has higher viscosity at temperatures below 5°C.
Graphene-XT, a start-up that works with graphene, in collaboration with the Graphene Flagship, has also developed graphene-enhanced lubricants. These lubricating oils leverage graphene’s unique properties to reduce wear and tear in diesel and petrol engines. The atom-thin layers of graphene allow for smooth sliding and minimal friction, resulting in engines that are safer, more efficient and produce less mechanical noise. The GTX-Lube range offers tailored solutions for various engine types, promoting longevity and performance.
On the other hand, different graphene flagship industrial partners including core and associated members such as Barpimo and Talga are developing graphene-enhanced anticorrosion paints with improved performance for automotive industries.
The replacement of traditional materials with graphene-reinforced composites in automotive parts, such as the front-end carrier (FEC), offers weight reduction, cost savings, mechanical improvements and significant CO2 reduction.
One example is the automotive company, BAC. Known for its lightweight technology, it has embraced the properties of graphene to enhance the structural performance of carbon fibre components in its cars. By incorporating graphene into the carbon fiber panels of BAC Mono and Mono R, the number of sheets required was reduced from three to two, resulting in a significant weight reduction — a panel that weighed 41 kilograms (KGs) went down to just 32 kilograms (KGs) after the use of graphene.
Speaking of batteries in electronic cars (e-cars), the GrEEnBat project gathers the forces of leading European companies in this direction such as Varta and BMW and focuses on developing silicon-graphene composite anodes for high energy density lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). The project aims to create battery modules that can compete with projected state-of-the-art technologies available in 2025 aiming for long lasting batteries enabling longer distance driving by e-cars.
Graphene innovation demonstration
The Graphene Flagship has stated that at its annual conference, Graphene Week 2023, attendees will be able to see the results of its partnership with Dallara Automobili spa, an Italian automotive manufacturer, which has led to the development of a sports car, the Dallara Stradale.
With innovation from scientists from the Graphene Flagship, the Dallara features a graphene-enhanced, fire-resistant interior. Safety has always been a concern in sports cars due to the risk of fires following accidents. Through the Graphene Flagship's Composites Work Package, Dallara conducted tests using graphene-enhanced composites in the Stradale, resulting in remarkable advancements.
The interior of the car incorporates a composite material with a high graphene content of 10 per cent by weight, making it highly innovative in the racing and automotive market. This material does not burn or emit smoke, successfully passing the stringent Vertical Flammability Test (UL94-V), a significant safety requirement in the automotive industry.
Additionally, other composites applied to the car's body parts exhibit enhanced flexural properties, resistance to deformation and improved energy dissipation capabilities. While the graphene Stradale is currently a prototype undergoing the homologation process, the possibility of producing a limited edition with graphene components in the future remains open.