Air Springs: Bet You Didn’t Know

Well, not exactly something you probably think about

By Gary S. Vasilash

Consider the tires on your vehicle. Even though that car or light truck weighs at least a couple thousand pounds, there is a tube of rubber (and other materials) that is full of air holding it up.

Air.

Think about it: What is a flat tire but the absence of air.

One of the leading tire manufacturers is Firestone.

So it knows a lot about creating automotive air-holding objects for purposes of improved ride and handling.

Turns out that the company holds the first patent in the world for air springs. And it has been producing them for some 75 years.

An air spring doesn’t look like what you think about when you think “spring.” No, it isn’t a rubber spiral full of air.

Rather, it is more like a cylinder.

Air springs provide better control of comfort and vehicle leveling. And to the point of leveling: they’re usually found on trucks due to the heavy loads that they sometimes carry.

Here’s another place where they have applicability: electric vehicles.

Reason: The battery packs are heavy.

In a Tesla Model 3 the battery weighs over 1,000 pounds. And as EVs get bigger, so do the batteries, so does the challenge of ride and handling.

So the folks at Firestone Industrial Products, which make air springs (among other things), are expanding the production capacity of the factory Williamsburg, Kentucky,  where the springs are manufactured. It is investing $51 million in the effort.

The rationale: “With the increase in vehicle electrification, Firestone air suspension systems are in high demand among the most innovative and forward-thinking original equipment manufacturers globally “Firestone air suspensions are optimally designed with electric vehicles in mind. Compared to traditional coil spring suspensions, our air suspensions are designed to help improve the handling and comfort of heavier electric vehicles and can even help improve EV range by lowering the vehicle to help improve aerodynamics. Advanced air suspensions are increasingly a ‘must-have’ technology on premium electric vehicles, and Firestone is committed to maintaining its leadership in this exciting and important market.”–Emily Poladian, president, Firestone Industrial Products.

GM Gets Ahead of the Curve on EV Battery Recycling

“GM’s zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90 percent of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025,” said Ken Morris, GM vice president of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles. This is one effort toward that end.

By Gary S. Vasilash

No one can say that General Motors and its partner LG Energy Solution aren’t being proactive.

The two companies operate a joint venture, Ultium Cells LLC. Ultium Cells will build the Ultium batteries that GM will use in its forthcoming electric vehicles (EVs).

Ultium battery for the GMC HUMMER EV Pickup. Those white slats slot into that container. (Image: GM)

GM’s current EVs—the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV—have lithium-ion batteries, but not Ultium batteries. That’s because the vehicles were developed pre-Ultium.

However, vehicles like the forthcoming Cadillac LYRIQ, which is to become available the first half of 2022, will have Ultium batteries on board.

Ultium Cells announced that it will be working with L-Cycle, a battery recycling company, to, well, recycle the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing.

Cobalt. Nickel. Lithium. Graphite. Manganese. Aluminum.

According to GM, 95% of the reclaimed materials can go into things like new batteries.

Li-Cycle says that the hydrometallurgical process it uses to recycle the materials is more energy efficient than other methods, like high-temperature “smelting” processes.

Which is fitting to what Ultium Cells is up to, as Thomas Gallagher, the company’s COO, said, “We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended.”

And at the very least, it undoubtedly beats the heck out of mining those materials.

The recycling process is scheduled to go on line later this year.

After all, they need to develop batteries so they can develop scrap.