With new battery tech, future cars could be powered by their bodywork

Researchers from Imperial College London and Volvo are developing a prototype material that's strong and light enough to be used as a car's skin but can store and discharge electrical energy.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

New battery technology could help cars of the future use their own bodywork as a battery.

Researchers from Imperial College London and European partners that include Volvo are developing a prototype material that's strong and light enough to be used as a car's skin but can store and discharge electrical energy.

The plan of the €3.4 million (approx. $4.65 million U.S.) project is to bolster the charging capacity of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to make them lighter and more energy efficient, allowing drivers to travel longer distances before needing to recharge.

The composite material is made of carbon fibers and a polymer resin and can store and discharge large amounts of energy much more quickly than conventional batteries.

The material does not use chemical processes, making it quicker to recharge than conventional batteries. Unlike conventional chemical batteries, the recharging process also causes little degradation in the composite material.

The material has been patented by Imperial. Researchers believe it could also be used as both battery and shell of consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers. Without conventional batteries, the devices could be smaller and more lightweight.

"We are really excited about the potential of this new technology," said Imperial professor and project coordinator Emile Greenhalgh in a statement. "We think the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material. Even the Sat Nav could be powered by its own casing."

There is still much work to be done with the composite material. Researchers plan to develop it so that it would replace the metal flooring in a car's wheel well, and Volvo is investigating the possibility of fitting the wheel well component into prototype cars for testing.

Moving forward, the first priority is to develop the material to store more energy and improve its mechanical properties by growing carbon nanotubes on the surface of the carbon fibers -- which would increase the surface area of the material and thus improve its capacity to store more energy.

The other factor at play: can the composite material be manufactured on an industrial scale?

European academic and industrial partners for the project include Swerea SICOMP, INASCO Hella, Chalmers, Advanced Composites Group, Nanocyl, Volvo Car Corporation, Bundesanstalt Fur Materialforschung undprufung, ETC Battery and Fuel Cells Sweden.

Images: Volvo's ReCharge hybrid concept car; Volvo C30 BEV dashboard

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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