Electronics

Can carbon fiber car panels double as energy storage materials?

Can carbon fiber store energy for electric vehicles, as well as serve as structural elements?
Can carbon fiber store energy for electric vehicles, as well as serve as structural elements?
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Leif Asp, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at Chalmers University of Technology, is the author of a new study highlighting the potential of carbon fibers to act as energy storage devices in vehicle design
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Leif Asp, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at Chalmers University of Technology, is the author of a new study highlighting the potential of carbon fibers to act as energy storage devices in vehicle design
Scientists from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology imagine a carefully engineered form of carbon fiber could serve as both a structural element and battery storage component of electric vehicles
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Scientists from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology imagine a carefully engineered form of carbon fiber could serve as both a structural element and battery storage component of electric vehicles
Can carbon fiber store energy for electric vehicles, as well as serve as structural elements?
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Can carbon fiber store energy for electric vehicles, as well as serve as structural elements?

Carbon fiber as we know it is one of the most impressive materials in our toolkit. Its incredible lightness and strength has seen it take hold in everything from competitive cycling, to supercar design to cutting edge aircraft. But could it also play a role in energy storage? One team of scientists has been exploring the possibilities, and say that carefully engineered forms of the material do indeed boast the necessary electrochemical properties, raising some interesting possibilities for weight-saving vehicle design.

The research was carried out at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and started with a pretty simple premise. Carbon fiber has already been shown to have potential as an electrode material in experimental batteries, while its mechanical properties are well established, so can these two attributes be combined in the one multipurpose material?

Carbon fiber manufactured for structural purposes is generally engineered to be as stiff as possible, but these materials leave a lot to be desired in terms of electrochemical capacity. Conversely, carbon fiber with good electrochemical abilities tends to offer a much lower stiffness.

In what they say was an unexplored field of research, the scientists set out to find a carbon fiber that can fit both bills. This meant studying the microstructures in different types of commercially available carbon fibers, looking at how the crystals within were sized and arranged. They discovered that carbon fibers with greater stiffness had large, highly oriented crystals, while less stiff carbon fiber had small and poorly oriented crystals.

Leif Asp, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at Chalmers University of Technology, is the author of a new study highlighting the potential of carbon fibers to act as energy storage devices in vehicle design
Leif Asp, Professor of Material and Computational Mechanics at Chalmers University of Technology, is the author of a new study highlighting the potential of carbon fibers to act as energy storage devices in vehicle design

This new knowledge, the researchers say, provides a basis for the pursuit of carbon fibers that hit the sweet spot, offering both useful electrochemical properties and required stiffness. And as study author Leif Asp explains, there is a bit of room to move in the current crop of commercially available carbon fibers.

"We now know how multifunctional carbon fibers should be manufactured to attain a high energy storage capacity, while also ensuring sufficient stiffness," he says. "A slight reduction in stiffness is not a problem for many applications such as cars. The market is currently dominated by expensive carbon fiber composites whose stiffness is tailored to aircraft use. There is therefore some potential here for carbon fiber manufacturers to extend their utilization."

Because weight is so critical in vehicle design and the fuel efficiency of the finished product, the scientists are already imagining how this new material, if developed to become part of the energy system, could shake things up. The researchers are already working with the automotive and aviation industries to explore these possibilities for structural batteries.

"A car body would then be not simply a load-bearing element, but also act as a battery," he says. "It will also be possible to use the carbon fiber 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 percent."

The research was published in the journal Multifunctional Materials.

Source: Chalmers University of Technology

6 comments
piperTom
I'll ask the obvious: does my little fender-bender produce a catastrophic discharge?
paul314
If you were using the body of a car as its battery you would certainly save weight, but you'd need a heck of a good sealant. And crashes would be even more interesting.
VincentWolf
Lets state the obvious--worthless in a car design but superb for airplanes. Cars require a low center of gravity and having more weight up high in body eliminates one of the primary advantages of EVs. But for planes, this has been researched and already done--the entire skin has been made into a battery and thus the era of electric planes is going to be a reality soon.
Kpar
A few years back, I had a neighbor who was a fireman, and he gave me an idea of what additional training the department required in order to rescue occupants of a hybrid car involved in an accident- some scary stuff, indeed, even when the battery pack is in a separate compartment. I encourage the curious to look it up. And if the body of the car IS the battery? Hmm...
MD
VincentWolf: True dat.. Packaged batteries in monocoque are a thing.. BUT you are conflating different issues, worrying about handling and driveability you are thinking of a car as an entertainment object... The car of the future is to be a severely utilitarian passenger experience, with VR thrown in to further distract you from your emasculated existence. Don't worry James will get you safely to your destination with zero stress, without that VR headset wouldn't it be boring.. lol.
SherlockMacGyver
Body of a vehicle acting as a battery.......what could go wrong