TOKYO -- Kobe Steel is developing lightweight composite materials for fuel cell vehicles that will be strong enough to protect hydrogen tanks in case of collisions.
The Japanese steelmaker created a specialized segment under its technological development headquarters. Researchers there will test different combinations of materials, including steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and composite resins. Until now, research segments were separate for each material.
By studying ways to connect different materials and durability, Kobe Steel will propose optimal combinations to automakers. It hopes to commercialize the products around 2025.
As the U.S. and Europe tighten their fuel-efficiency regulations, automakers are scrambling to make their vehicles lighter, adopting aluminum for roofs and trunks. The North American aluminum panel market is projected to grow from about 100,000 tons a year now to around 1 million tons by 2020. Kobe Steel aims to have its products adopted by carmakers by getting involved from the design stage.