One of the problems that manufacturers often run into when designing electric cars is the storage of electricity – too many batteries is too heavy, too few means too little energy. After years of research, however, one university in Sweden may now have the answer.
Scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology have found that carbon fibre can work as battery electrodes and store electricity directly. This basically means that, with the correct development, carbon fibre body panels could become part of the car’s energy system and subsequently reduce the need for large (heavy) batteries.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole concept sounds far too sci-fi to be real, but ‘structural batteries’ have been under consideration for quite a few years. The whole point of the concept is the quest for reduced weight, increased efficiency and higher levels of performance. Of course, if you’re after lower weight figures, carbon fibre is almost certainly the first place to look these days.
Through extensive testing, scientists have found that fibres with smaller crystals in their structure had a better ability to operate as electrodes. You may think that the downside of fibres with smaller crystals is that they offer less stiffness, the scientists have said that the fibres that they’ve tested are still slightly stiffer than steel.
Talking about the gains of this technology, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at the university – Leif Asp – told Top Gear:
“A car body would be not simply a load-bearing element, but also act as a battery. It will also be possible to use the carbon fibre for other purposes such as harvesting kinetic energy, for sensors or for conductors of both energy and data. If all these functions were part of a car or aircraft body, this could reduce the weight by up to 50 per cent.”
Leif mentions in that quote about aircraft, that’s because the gains for them are even more significant. The issue for turning aircraft all-electric has always been the weight of batteries – a technology like this could build those ‘batteries’ into the body of the aircraft, subsequently saving a whole lot of weight.