DEARBORN, MI—Engineers at Ford Motor Co. are developing car parts made out of graphene, a two-dimensional nanomaterial. Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and one of the most conductive materials in the world. It is a great sound barrier and is extremely thin and flexible.

Graphene is not economically viable for all applications, but Ford, in collaboration with Eagle Industries Inc. and XG Sciences Inc., has found a way to use small amounts in fuel rail covers, pump covers and front engine covers to maximize its benefits.

“The breakthrough here is not in the material, but in how we are using it,” says Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader for sustainability and emerging materials at Ford Motor Co. “We are able to use a very small amount, less than a half percent, to help us achieve significant enhancements in durability, sound resistance and weight reduction, [which are] applications that others have not focused on.”

Graphene was first isolated in 2004, but application breakthroughs are relatively new. The first experiment to isolate graphene was done by using pencil lead, which contains graphite, and a piece of tape, using the tape to pull off layers of graphite to create a material (graphene) that is a single layer thick.

This experiment won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010. Four years later, Ford began working with suppliers to study the material and how to use it in producing auto parts.

“Generally, attempting to reduce noise inside vehicle cabins means adding more material and weight,” says Mielewski. “But, with graphene, it’s the opposite.”

“A small amount of graphene goes a long way, and in this case, it has a significant effect on sound absorption qualities,” claims John Bull, president of Eagle Industries.

The graphene is mixed with foam constituents. Tests done by Ford and its suppliers have shown a 17 percent reduction in noise, a 20 percent improvement in mechanical properties and a 30 percent improvement in heat endurance properties.

“We are excited about the performance benefits our products are able to provide to Ford and Eagle Industries,” says Philip Rose, CEO at XG Sciences. “Working with early adopters such as Ford demonstrates the potential for graphene in multiple applications. We look forward to extending our collaboration into other materials, and enabling further performance improvements.”

Ford is currently ramping up production on more than 10 under-the-hood components made with graphene. Starting in 2019, they will be used on the F-150 pickup truck and Mustang sports car.