A new engine program at Fiat Chrysler reveals an innovative way to solve the task of creating an advanced new material to improve engine efficiency and reduce vehicle weight.
The automaker enlisted the help of engineers at the federal Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Material development is usually the stuff of advanced research — the sort of work that r&d departments might spend years toiling away at with little profit-making result.
For FCA's project, engineers have been able to bring a new grade of heat-tolerant aluminum alloy to market faster by taking advantage of research already being done by government scientists at Oak Ridge.
It's rare when a government-funded initiative makes its way into a commercial engine.
The new alloy was borne out of a project that used Oak Ridge's Titan supercomputer and included Fiat Chrysler engineers and casting experts from Nemak North America, the giant Mexico-based supplier of engine blocks and cylinder heads.
Engine designers have always known that improving an engine's thermal efficiency — the amount of energy contained in fuel that is converted to work — is one major key to extracting more power and fewer emissions from a motor.
Most of today's mass-produced aluminum cylinder heads are made of what are referred to as 319 and 356 grade alloys, which start to weaken and distort at combustion temperatures up to around 390 degrees Fahrenheit. There are grades of alloy that can withstand higher combustion temperatures without damage, but they are expensive and can be difficult to cast.
The collaboration of Oak Ridge, FCA and Nemak engineers started in 2014 under a $3.5 million Department of Energy Cooperative Research and Development grant. It resulted in a new aluminum alloy that will allow engines to run about 180 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and can be cast on existing production machinery.
The implications are significant.