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ORNL Researchers Studying Possible Car Of The Future

January 5, 1999
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Developing lightweight, fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow without sacrificing safety is a major challenge, but it's being met head on by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

OAK RIDGE, TN-- Developing lightweight, fuel-efficientcars of tomorrow without sacrificing safety is a majorchallenge, but it's being met head on by researchers atthe Department of Energy's Oak Ridge NationalLaboratory (ORNL).

Researchers at ORNL, in collaboration with the NationalHighway Traffic Safety Administration and GeorgeWashington University, are developing detailed computermodels of a variety of vehicles. In the last few years,they have completed models of the Ford Taurus andExplorer, both among the top sellers in the UnitedStates. Researchers are now modeling an Audi A8, anall-aluminum car that is one of the first to use alightweight material that may be prominent in futurecars.

The shell of the Audi was on display at the recent"Supercomputing '98: High Performance Networking andComputing" conference in Orlando, Fla.

"We use these models combined with lightweightmaterials models to analyze material performance in awide variety of crashes," said Srdan Simunovic ofORNL's Computer Science and Mathematics Division. "Wecan substitute different materials in individual partsand compare the results."

Researchers develop models by disassembling a vehicle,scanning the shape and measuring the weight and inertiaof each component. They program those data into acomputer and perform a number of simulated crashes, allat a fraction of what it would cost to perform actualcrashes.

Results gained from these and other tests will allowthe U.S. government to assess safety as U.S.automakers strive to triple the efficiency of today'scars without sacrificing performance, utility, cost ofownership or safety. To accomplish these goals, expertsestimate that the weight of automobiles will have to bereduced by 40 percent.

By using computer models, which are validated with acontrolled crash, researchers can gain informationidentical to that from actual crashes that cost up to$75,000 per crash. Researchers compare simulationsusing high-speed films of collisions and traces fromaccelerometers that are placed throughout the vehicles.They also disassemble and analyze parts of the carafter the crash.

ORNL's capabilities in materials modeling and parallelcomputing make the lab uniquely qualified to performthis work, Simunovic said. He points to the lab'sdevelopment of the parametric finite element model asan example of innovative solutions.

"With parametric finite element models, we can tune thegrid -- in which the vehicle is divided into hundredsof small sections -- according to the kind of crashwe're going to simulate and kind of computer resourcesavailable," Simunovic said. "This makes it moremanageable for the computer."

At the conference in Orlando, researchers demonstratedtheir work in a variety of areas, including in sparkemissions, improved catalytic converters anddevelopments to enhance engine efficiency.

"We have a number of disciplines that are comingtogether to help in the design of a better automobile,"said Thomas Zacharia, director of the Computer Scienceand Mathematics Division. "And we're demonstrating howsupercomputing has relevance to people's lives."

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility and ismanaged by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "ORNL Researchers Studying Possible Car Of The Future." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 January 1999. <>.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (1999, January 5). ORNL Researchers Studying Possible Car Of The Future. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2016 from
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "ORNL Researchers Studying Possible Car Of The Future." ScienceDaily. (accessed August 30, 2016).