Composites race ahead

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Racecar features honeycomb material in front wing designed to withstand forces 1,000 times its own weight

The award-nominated rPET honeycomb material developed by EconCore, specialist provider of technology for cost-efficient continuous production of honeycomb cores is being harnessed by the Formula Electric Belgium team for its Titan racecar ,which was unveiled to the world in May 2022.

Based on recycled PET material, the rPET honeycomb cores are made up of 100% recycled material, predominantly sourced from non-food postconsumer and industrial PET waste streams to contribute towards overcoming the oversupply of these most problematic PET waste streams.

Due to its hugely advantageous mechanical performance, low weight and high temperature stability, rPET is the material of choice for a range of applications including automotive, transportation, building and construction, industrial packaging/graphical displays, furniture and much more. One industry in particular where the mechanical properties and weight of a material solution can prove the difference between winning and losing is motorsport.

EconCore’s rPET honeycomb cores are currently being used by Formula Electric Belgium within the front wings of its racecar. The team of engineering students produced the front wing skin out of natural flax fibre. In 2021, the team used carbon fibre reinforced composites for the skins of the wing profile and to give the wings greater stiffness, they required aluminium stiffeners similar to those found in aeroplane wings.

Formula Electric Belgium’s commitment to “green innovation meets performance” perfectly encompasses EconCore’s rPET technology. To adapt a more sustainable approach without compromising on performance, Formula Electric Belgium substituted the aluminium stiffeners with rPET honeycomb to produce a sandwich panel that was both lighter and more rigid.

For the front wing design, Formula Electric Belgium required a thermoplastic material as it would have to be thermoformed. For the thermoforming of the rPET cores the team started with constant thickness to shape into the wing, using heated moulds to press the core into shape. Not only did the rPET honeycomb core find its place within the aerodynamics package, the entire undertray of the 220kg race car was also produced from rPET honeycomb cores.

By optimising the use of rPET honeycomb technology the Formula Electric Belgium team has been able to reduce the wings weight by 26% compared to the same size wing from 2021. The lightweight front wing component is also high in rigidity, capable of withstanding forces equivalent to almost 1,000 times its own weight. The Titan racecar has undergone multiple tests within its various stages of development, under a three-point bending test the wing was capable of withstanding 46kg of force.

For the 2022 season, Formula Electric Belgium’s use of lightweight materials has enabled it to produce a race car that offers a total weight of only 220kg. As the founder of Lotus Cars, Colin Chapman, famously once said, “adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”, but Formula Electric Belgium certainly isn’t lacking on power either, with its racecar achieving a 0-100kmh time of 2.5 seconds.

Throughout the development stages EconCore opened up its doors to the Formula Electric Belgium team, allowing the team to use its testing equipment to evaluate the strength of the material, which proved crucial to the entire development process.

The Titan car was showcased at the launch event on the 24th of May 2022 to over 300 attendees, including Formula Electric Belgium partners and other Belgium University teams taking part in the Formula Student competitions.

For the competitions, the Formula Electric Belgium team will put the racecar through a range of dynamic and static events that they will be scored on.

Karel Van Wambeke, aerodynamics engineer at Formula Electric Belgium said: “The rPET honeycomb core was an exciting and interesting material to work with and the entire EconCore team was enthusiastic in supporting us whilst we used their facilities. We can’t wait to put our hard
work to the test.”