BASF seeks student ideas for painting carbon fiber

BASF seeks student ideas for painting carbon fiber

Automakers seek less time-consuming methods to increase lightweight material use.


Cleveland, Ohio – BASF, a company producing a painting solution for the only mass-produced carbon-fiber bodied vehicle on the road, is looking for better ways to coat the lightweight material.

The company’s third annual North American science competition is open to Ph.D. students and researchers in the U.S. and Canada who have ideas on ways to improve coating techniques for carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP).

“This engaging and competitive event will help BASF address a global challenge to improve fuel economy,” said Christopher Hewitt, BASF Science Relations Manager, North America. “Participants will work collaboratively to develop, communicate and pitch their ideas while networking with BASF researchers, coaches and executives.”

Carbon fiber use has been limited to sports cars and other expensive, high-end vehicles because of material costs. A secondary cost, however, is painting. Stray fibers from CFRP panels can wick away paint, creating voids and porosity. And once painted, CFRP panels can’t be baked as easily as metal panels because of the lower acceptable temperature range of composites.

The most common technique for painting carbon fiber today is extremely labor intensive. Companies prime and paint body panels and inspect them for frequent gaps. They then sand down problem areas and reapply paint and primer. That process gets repeated until companies achieve a flawless surface. It’s exactly the kind of process that automakers hate – subjective, non-automatable, and time consuming.

The only high-volume vehicle that uses CFRP panels extensively is BMW’s i3 electric car. To avoid the time-consuming, repetitive paint process for that vehicle, BASF developed thin, pre-painted, thermoplastic panels that affix to the CFRP, giving the cars their color.

Open to teams consisting of two to four Ph.D. students and young researchers in the U.S. and Canada (excluding Quebec), the competition encourages innovative and game-changing ideas. Proposals will be accepted until May 19, 2017.

All finalists will receive cash awards and the opportunity to present their proof-of-concept to BASF executives August 24 and 25, 2017, at the BASF North American Automotive Coatings Headquarters in Southfield, Michigan.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and DesignHe has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.