By Simon Alvarez
Posted on July 29, 2021
It is widely known that Tesla constantly innovates, from the software of its cars to the chemistry of the batteries that power them. And if a newly published patent application is any indication, it appears that Tesla’s innovations actually go all the way down to the metals used to build its cars. By using aluminum alloys that were developed by the company, for example, Tesla may be able to usher in a new breed of electric cars that are incredibly tough while being cheaper to produce.
The patent, titled “Die Cast Aluminum Alloys for Structural Components,” describes an aluminum alloy that is both extremely tough and ductile. The aluminum alloy would not require further processing as well, allowing the company to improve its production costs.
In the patent’s description, Tesla noted that commercial cast aluminum alloys such as those used for electric vehicle chassis need to be both strong and ductile. Aluminum alloy components are typically formed by casting. If produced well, casted parts could be produced quickly and reliably, and they should maintain their structural properties well. Alloys that cannot be casted well, however, result in hot tearing, which causes issues.
Tesla emphasized that numerous structural components made of aluminum alloys today may require processes like heat treating, which improves strength, hardness, ductility, and corrosion resistance. These processes ensure quality, but they also require large capital expenditures, extended processing times, and potential yield losses. With this in mind, Tesla noted that it would be preferable to produce aluminum alloys with high yield strengths and sufficient ductility, while requiring no heat treatment.
Tesla describes some of its ideas in the following section.
“In one embodiment, the alloy comprises a yield strength of at least about 130 MPa and a bend angle of at least about 20° at a 3 mm section thickness when as-cast and without further processing. In one embodiment, the aluminum alloys comprise vanadium to provide many of these enhancements. In another embodiment, the aluminum alloy has a specific weight ratio of copper to magnesium to provide many of these enhancements of an alloy with the desired features. In one embodiment, the aluminum alloy has a weight ratio of Cu:Mg of about 4:1 to about 1: 1. In one embodiment, the aluminum alloy has a weight ratio of Cu:Mg of about 4: 1 to about 2: 1.
“As mentioned below, aluminum alloys with these compositions were found to have high yield strength and high ductility compared to available aluminum alloys. As mentioned below, the aluminum alloys are described herein by the weight percent (wt %) of the total elements and particles within the alloy, as well as specific properties of the alloys, it will be understood that the remaining composition of any alloy described herein is aluminum and incidental impurities.”
If Tesla could effectively introduce novel aluminum alloys for its vehicles, the company would likely be able to improve its production costs and its products’ overall quality. Stronger aluminum alloy parts may pave the way for vehicles that are safer than ever before, while the lack of heat treatment could ensure that Tesla’s operating costs are optimized further. The aluminum alloy parts may also contribute to higher production outputs, especially if they are fully compatible with the company’s megacast strategies.
Read the full patent here: Tesla Die Cast Aluminum Alloy Patent | PDF (scribd.com)