Electric cars – and aircraft – could one day have carbon fibre bodies that store energy in place of batteries, while being up to 50 per cent lighter, researchers from Sweden have said.
A study conducted at the Chalmers University of Technology has shown that the incredibly lightweight and strong material can be used as a battery electrode, presenting game-changing implications for EV makers.
Leif Asp, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at the university, who heads the research group, published the study last week saying that the research showed that carbon fibre could also be used to harvest energy.
“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.”
The technology, which uses a slightly more flexible form of carbon fibre, would not only be lighter than existing lithium-ion technology, but safer, “as they would also not contain any volatile substances,” the research said.
Concerns about using a flexible form of carbon fibre for a car body would not be a problem, says Asp, but requires automakers to rethink their approach to EV design.
“The key is to optimise vehicles at system level – based on the weight, strength, stiffness and electrochemical properties.
“That is something of a new way of thinking for the automotive sector, which is more used to optimising individual components,” says Asp.
There are, however, question marks about efficiency compared to lithium-ion technology; Asp says that the benefits outweigh the loss of energy.
“Structural batteries may perhaps not become as efficient as traditional batteries, but since they have a structural load-bearing capability, very large gains can be made at system level,” he says.
While the lighter weight of the body could indeed be very useful — particularly in regards to electric aircraft, UNSW energy researcher Timothy Schmidt says that could be a long shot.
“Combining multiple uses into a single structural element should bring about a reduction in weight, and utilising structural carbon fibre as an electrode for lithium-ion batteries is particularly interesting.”
“I’m not sure we’ll ever get to large passenger aircraft being powered electrically, but I remain open minded”.