College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Team that created ultra-lightweight door honored by the U.S. Department of Energy


The Clemson University-led team that brought together public and private partners to create an ultralight vehicle door to help improve fuel efficiency has won an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

A Team Award went to Clemson University, Honda Development & Manufacturing of America, LLC, the University of Delaware, Lanxess, and Proper Group International.

Those pictured are (from left): Michael Berube, Srikanth Pilla, Duane Detwiler, Pal Swaminatha, Shridhar Yarlagadda and Gang Li.

The award was “in recognition of Dr. Srikanth Pilla’s extraordinary expertise in leading carbon fiber thermoplastic composites door R&D to achieve weight savings, performance, and sustainability,” according to a Department of Energy announcement.

“It’s very satisfying to be recognized after having worked on this project for several years,” Pilla said. “The project has been key in producing top talent, and it has helped bolster our reputation for outstanding innovation. This was a team project. The partners coming together to make the door a reality was key to its success.”

Four students graduated with doctorates based on their work on the project. When The American Society of Mechanical Engineers included Clemson University in its list of 10 innovative engineering institutes, it cited the door project among the reasons.

Ryan Hahnlen, a principal engineer at Honda Development & Manufacturing of America, added: “This award recognizes the hard work and dedication of the student team and commitment of the industrial partners to a project of very significant scale. The design, construction, and verification of any vehicle subsystem is typically handled by many departments across multiple arms of the business and supplier network. The output from this project is made all the more impressive by the fact that it has been led by just a handful of students and industry partners. I’m proud to be part of this team and all we’ve accomplished in this project and I’m thrilled that the effort was recognized by the DOE!”

The five-year project was funded in 2015 with $5.81-million from the Department of Energy. Pilla, who served as principal investigator, is currently the founding director of the Clemson Composites Center and the Jenkins Endowed Professor of Automotive Engineering.

The Team Award was among several presented in June during the Vehicle Technologies Office 2022 Annual Merit Review Plenary.

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