A car powered by its own body work | GDS Publishing



An electric car powered by its own body work could soon lay to rest many of the concerns over the impracticality of electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV).

Swedish carmaker Volvo are to team up with Imperial College London on a 3.4 million euro project to develop a prototype material that stores and discharges electrical energy, allowing parts of a car’s bodywork to double up as its battery.

Volvo is just one of nine partners involved in the project that would help to quash one of the major obstacles to people buying an EV or HEV – the prospect of being stranded on a road in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery and no recharge station for miles.

The principle idea is for the material to store energy in different parts of the electric or hybrid car (i.e. the bonnet, roof and door panels) and then use this energy to power anything from the break lights to the satnav. The technology would mean fewer and smaller batteries being used to power the car which could in turn spend more time on the road without the need to recharge.

Electric powered car bodywork

Click on image to enlarge

Game-changing technology

In the long-term, if the project proves successful, it would reduce the need for the vast number of recharge stations that are thought to be needed in a country to accommodate the growing number of EVs on the road. The technology could be a game-changer for the whole industry if it means less infrastructure spending is needed if EV and HEVs are to become more self-sufficient.

Also, the energy storage technology would lead to lighter vehicles on the road, which obviously translates to less road wear-and-tear per car in the future.

The project co-ordinator, Dr Emile Greenhalgh, from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, says: "We are really excited about the potential of this new technology. We think the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material. Even the Sat Nav could be powered by its own casing.

"The future applications for this material don’t stop there – 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."

Bringing the technology to market

The team says replacing a metal wheel well with a composite one could enable Volvo to reduce the number of batteries needed to power the electric motor. They believe this could lead to a 15 per cent reduction in the car’s overall weight, which should significantly improve the range of future hybrid cars.

The new composite material that makes up the storage technology (made of carbon fibres and polymer resin) is capable of discharging significant amounts of energy far more quickly that conventional batteries. Another upside is that the new technology can be charged like any normal EV by plugging into a household power supply.

According to the Imperial College London web site the researchers are also exploring other alternatives for charging it such as recycling energy created when a car brakes.

Initial phases of research will look into making the composite material store as much energy as possible, and eventually investigate the most effective method for manufacturing the composite material at an industrial level and bringing the technology to market.


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