Scientists Want to Turn a Car’s Frame Into a Battery: Range is the great limiting factor on today’s electric cars, as most can drive only 200 to 300 miles before needing to hit the charger again. But what if the car itself were made of battery?
New researcher has found that carbon fiber, increasingly used as a weight-saving structural material, can also be used as battery components. Specifically, carbon fibers can be used as electrodes, the materials in batteries that collect and store the battery’s charge. (Batteries are made of two electrodes along with an electrolyte between them to control when the battery’s charge is released.)
The scientists started by examining the microscopic structure of different types of carbon fibers. They found that large carbon fibers all oriented in the same direction are the strongest, but poor when it comes to holding an electric charge. Small and poorly oriented carbon fibers are the opposite: they’re weak, but can hold substantial amounts of electricity.
The researchers say they found a way to make the carbon fibers slightly smaller and tweak their orientation to dramatically increase their electrical properties without weakening the fibers’ strength too much. This means the fibers can still be used in the body of a car while simultaneously storing electricity.
In theory, this could be a breakthrough in electric car range. Today, automakers are trying to get more and more range out of the big, heavy lithium-ion battery stashed in the bottom of electric vehicles, but storing electricity in the car’s body could lead to cars that are lighter and travel farther. There’s also a chance that this carbon fiber technology could make its way into aircraft as well, making those aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient.