The Ohio State University receives $400,000 grant from Alcoa Foundation to research lightweight, metal-based vehicle structures

July 19, 2011

From left to right: Leo Rusli, Nolan Windholtz, Anthony Luscher, Steven Woodward, John Defouw, Glenn Daehn.

The Alcoa Foundation recently awarded a $400,000 grant to Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research in support of innovative design and manufacturing technologies that will enable the creation of lighter, more environmentally friendly vehicle structures. The grant is part of Alcoa Foundation’s $4 million “Advancing Sustainability Research: Innovative Partnerships for Actionable Solutions” initiative that funds 10 global sustainability research projects in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and the United States. 

Professor Glenn S. Daehn of Ohio State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering will serve as project lead, with Professor Anthony Luscher in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering serving as co-investigator.

“There is a growing recognition that the lightest weight and most affordable vehicles in the future will not be made from one material, but many different ones,” said Daehn. “Alcoa Foundation is providing us with support for this important research and giving students the opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges and triumphs of materials development in a real world environment.”

Daehn notes a pressing need to reduce the mass of all classes of wheeled vehicles, including light automobiles, trucks, and passenger busses. “Mass reduction directly improves fuel economy and is especially important to electric and alternative powertrains.”

According to Luscher, vehicles in the future will need to have unique structural designs in order to achieve these weight savings. “The Alcoa Foundation grant will allow us to study new and innovative joining strategies that are tailored to each material combination and each loading type,” he said. “The whole system of joints needs to work together to be efficient.”

The Institute for Materials Research, working closely with Profs. Daehn and Luscher, will help engender this industry-wide change by educating engineers-in-training and practicing engineers on a holistic approach to multi-materials structural joining.

Dr. Leo Rusli, a research scientist in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, recently advised a team of undergraduate students that put the multi-material concept to the test. “We utilized a tie rod made from aluminum tube with steel end pieces for the Baja SAE off-road competition in Kansas and Illinois,” said Rusli. “The course is designed to fail the vehicles, but the tie rods held through the course and the electromagnetically formed joints did not experience failure. The new design results in a weight saving of over 55%.” 

“Alcoa and The Ohio State University have a long-standing relationship,” said Kevin Kramer, president, Growth Initiatives, Alcoa. “We are pleased to support this important research with the talented material science students and researchers at the university. This program will help extend and develop sustainable design and manufacturing technologies that leverage large-scale production.”