Funding boost for weight-saving composite wheels

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The first low-cost commercially viable composite automotive wheel could soon be a reality after a consortium of specialist UK businesses won a match-funded grant of £135,000.

composite wheels
ACRIM has won funding from the Niche Vehicle Network

Electric vehicles and urban delivery vans are the initial target market for the wheel, which promises a weight saving of up to 50 per cent compared with a typical 15in steel wheel.

The ACRIM (All Composite Reduced Inertia Modular Wheels) project comprises UK composite specialists Carbon ThreeSixty and Far UK, and polymer specialist Bitrez. The consortium won a share of £2.5m funding through the Niche Vehicle Network’s Low Carbon Vehicle Technology R&D Competition and is working with GKN and Manchester Electric Vehicle Co and Microcab to test the wheel’s effectiveness.

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The six-month project aims to take the wheel through proof of concept to a stage where production can be scaled up.

Composite wheels currently available are manufactured for the high-performance market and are offered as options on supercars such as the Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive. However, they typically cost £2,000 or more each.

Ed Allnutt, managing director of lead partner Carbon ThreeSixty, said ACRIM’s aim was to improve efficiency for vehicles that make a large number of starts and stops, such as small city cars and ‘last-mile’ delivery vans.

ACRIM aims to reduce the cost of the wheel to £200, said Allnutt: this is still more than steel, but the composite wheel would offer compensating advantages.

Reducing the static weight of the wheel also reduces rotational inertia, so that it takes less energy to start and stop the wheel spinning. “It’s considered that taking 1kg out of the wheel is equivalent to taking 2kg out of the static mass, depending on the duty cycle,” said Allnutt. In addition, reducing the unsprung mass makes possible improved handling, and also allows suspension components to be reduced in weight. Overall efficiency gains of 5-10 per cent are predicted.

The wheel is likely to be primarily made from industrial-grade carbon fibre with an epoxy resin system, said Allnutt, formed into shape using a resin transfer moulding process.

However, for part of the wheel a different process will be investigated, fabricating it as a two-piece co-manufactured composite and using compression moulding.

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