London, England – A new prototype material that can store and discharge electrical energy could revolutionize the production of hybrid and electric vehicles. Researchers from Imperial College London and their European partners, including Volvo, said the material is strong and lightweight enough to be used for car parts.
Ultimately, the material could be used in hybrid and electric vehicles to make them lighter, more compact and more energy efficient, enabling drivers to travel for longer distances before needing to recharge their cars. In addition, the researchers believe the material could potentially be used for casings for mobile phones and computers, so they would not need a separate battery.
Dr. Emile Greenhalgh, the project coordinator, said that the car of the future could potentially be drawing power from its roof or hood, and its satellite navigation could be powered by its own casing. “The future applications for this material don’t stop there,” he said. “You might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging. We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.”
In a new project, the scientists are planning to develop the composite material to replace the metal spare wheel well of a trunk. Volvo is investigating the possibility of fitting the well into prototype hybrid cars for testing purposes. This could reduce the number of batteries needed to power the electric motor, leading to a possible 15 per cent reduction in the car’s overall weight, which should significantly improve the range of future hybrid cars.
The researchers said the composite material is made of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, and will store and discharge large amounts of energy much more quickly than conventional batteries. It does not use chemical processes, making it quicker to recharge than conventional batteries, and with little degradation in the composite material. The material could be charged by plugging a hybrid car into a household power supply, or using the energy created when the car brakes.