SAE Podcast: Reinventing the Wheel with Carbon Fibre

19 August, 2022

Carbon Revolution’s lightweight wheel technology was conceived by a Deakin University a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) race team.

Nearly 20 years on, the company has grown to operate out of a state-of-the-art 10,000m2 factory and become the first to supply single-piece OEM carbon fibre wheels with contracts in place with Ford, Ferrari and General Motors.

Grayson Brulte from SAE’s Tomorrow Today Podcast spoke to Chief Technology Officer, Dr Ashley Denmead to look at Carbon Revolution’s journey, and how the company is positioning itself to disrupt the automotive wheel market.

Overcoming challenges of carbon fibre wheels

Denmead says carmakers first approached Carbon Revolution because it was the only company to have solved the challenges of making an automotive carbon fibre wheel work, such as:

  • Attaching the wheel to the vehicle so it can never come off, but can be removed when required;
  • Ensuring air is held in a pressure vessel which is subject to extreme impact and fatigue loads;
  • Protecting the wheel and pressure vessel from brake rotors, which reach temperatures up to 1000°C;
  • Ensuring paint sticks to the wheel for the life of the vehicle, even when exposed to UV.

Carbon Revolution wheels overcome all of these challenges and weigh up to 40-50% less than an aluminium wheel of equivalent size and strength.

According to Denmead, the ability to draw upon a pool of talented and creative problem solvers, to overcome these challenges, and ability to protect that intellectual property are two benefits of being based in Australia. Carbon Revolution has over 55 patents and more pending patents protecting its designs and production.

True success is disruption

Carbon Revolution is working towards achieving widespread adoption of its efficiency technology, beyond the performance car segment it started in.

“With EVs and the drive for efficiency and range, carbon fibre wheels are really solving problems for our customers that nobody else can,” Denmead said.

“We have four programs in development stages that are for electric vehicles.”

Carbon fibre wheels transmit less road noise into the cabin, which is important in a vehicle with no powertrain noise.

Aerodynamics are also crucial in extending an EV’s range, and wheels play a significant role in a vehicle’s overall drag coefficient. Aluminium wheel designs can be shaped to be more aerodynamic with a larger surface area, but these designs add weight to wheels, cancelling out efficiency benefits from aerodynamic gains.

“We can produce really aerodynamic shapes with carbon fibre wheels for very little weight penalty,” he said.

Keeping SUVs within weight limits

EV SUV with carbon fiber wheels

Image: With weight savings of over 100lbs (50kg) achievable across four wheels, Carbon Revolution wheels can keep EV SUVs within class weight limits, which has implications for fuel economy credits in many markets.

Carbon Revolution sees SUVs as a significant future market, with the same benefits on offer as performance vehicles. But Denmead says OEMs are also looking at creative ways to save weight on future electric SUVs, to ensure they remain below weight limits for relevant vehicle classes.

In the USA for example, an EV weighing over 8500lbs does not qualify for a corporate average fuel economy credit for light duty electric vehicles, which many manufacturers require to avoid penalties for not meeting increasingly stringent emissions standards.

“We might be offering a 100-pound saving in that instance by just bolting on four wheels to the vehicle,” he said.

That’s in addition to the efficiency, noise and styling benefits which are achievable with Carbon Revolution wheels.

Listen to the full discussion between Dr Ashley Denmead and Grayson Brulte above, or search ‘SAE Tomorrow Today’ wherever you get your podcasts.