SPAC, an Italy-based medium-sized company specializing in the production of technical textiles, has joined the Graphene Flagship's Spearhead Project G+BOARD that aims to build parts of cars’ passenger compartments with graphene and related materials.

G+BOARD’s researchers aim to remove most of the copper wiring currently used in dashboards, to reduce the car’s weight and production steps, while improving aesthetics, disposal and recyclability. SPAC is developing new steering wheels and glove boxes with graphene-based materials.

Other Graphene Flagship Partners involved in G+BOARD are Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the project leader, Avanzare Innovacion Tecnologica SL in Spain, Bioage Srl, Nanesa Srl, National Research Council (CNR), Centro Ricerche Fiat S.C.p.A. (CRF) in Italy, the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) in Greece and the University of Cambridge in the UK.

In a recent interview with the Graphene Flagship, SPAC's R&D Manager Claudio Farenzena said that the Company is building a new component capable of heating the driver's hands. Today these heating elements are built with the traditional method of resistive wire coils. However, when a wire breaks, the system no longer works. Also, these wires are relatively bulky: they can be visible or perceptible through the external material. Most manufacturers try to circumvent these issues by inserting expanded materials, such as ethylene-propylene diene monomer (EPDM) or other polymers, in the steering wheel. However, this strategy is not ideal, as it complicates the assembly of the steering wheel and limits its thermal efficiency.

SPAC is developing almost completely wireless components: it plans to remove most copper wires, and take advantage of graphene’s thermal and electrical properties. Only the connection ends will stay, which can be easily hidden in less sensitive areas of the steering wheel. Besides, this new steering wheel will warm up thanks to a single radiating surface, whose performance will not be affected by the presence of cuts or holes.

On the glove box project, Farenzena shared that SPAC is working on a touch-sensitive sensor, which exploits the electrical charge that accumulates in response to applied mechanical stress. In this case, when someone touches the sensor, an electric current is generated; this is detected by the electronics, which drives an actuator that opens the drawer. Applying a novel laser writing technology, they draw buttons and electrical connections that are not visible at first, but become perceptible when the driver or the passenger puts their hand close to the glove box. Studies conducted by various Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have shown that this is a trend that will characterize future cars’ dashboards.

On their progress on the steering wheel project, Farenzena said that they are working together with Graphene Flagship Partner Nanesa in Italy choosing suitable polymers for the thermoresistor. In collaboration with the G+BOARD partners, they are creating composites with various graphene and graphene oxide formulations, while complying with industrial parameters. They are looking for the best graphene-based formulation to produce a film with homogeneous properties and required thickness.

For the glove box, SPAC worked with the G+BOARD partners to identify suitable graphene-based materials and polymers. An insulating mix is required, which will be selectively modified under the action of a laser. The traces left by the laser become the conductive tracks of a printed circuit.