Feb 082010

Auto Bodywork Doubles as Battery

Think wafer thin mobile phones and laptops that don’t need a separate battery

The problem is clear. Hybrid cars and EVs rely on batteries for power, but batteries are bulky and heavy, causing the car to use up more energy. But what if a car’s bodywork was made of a strong, lightweight material that could store and discharge electrical energy just as a conventional battery does? In pursuing this goal, researchers at the Imperial College London are developing a key building block for the hybrid car of the future, and the implications go way beyond automobiles – think wafer thin mobile phones and laptops that don’t need a separate battery because they draw power from their casing.

Imperial College has been working on the idea as part of a €3.4 million 3 year European Union-funded project which includes researchers from a number of European partners, including automotive firm Volvo. The prototype material is a composite of carbon fibers and a polymer resin which can store and discharge large amounts of energy much faster than conventional batteries. Unlike these there is little degradation in the material over time because there is no chemical process involved, and this also aids more rapid recharging. It is lightweight and strong enough to make car body parts, and could be plugged into the household power supply for recharging.

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