Swedish researchers believe the problem of battery efficiency in electric cars can be solved by turning the car's entire frame into one, big battery. They say their solution would remove the drag created by today's heavy batteries, vastly increasing the range of electric cars. Jim Drury has the story.
A common problem among electric cars is the size and weight of their batteries, which causes drag and reduces the distances they can travel. Researchers across Europe are working on a novel solution - turning the car's frame into a self-contained battery. Called the 'STORAGE' project, the plan envisages replacing much of the steel used in conventional car frames, with polymer composite materials that can store energy. Head of Research at Swerea research institute, Leif Asp, says it's a practical and inexpensive solution. SOUNDBITE (English) SWEREA-SICOMP HEAD OF RESEARCH LEIF ASP SAYING: "We conduct research on polymer composite materials which are multifunctional. That means that they can exhibit at least two functions at the same time. In this case it is energy storing and structural load carrying capacity...We can employ commercially available carbon fibres. Some of these carbon fibres have these multifunctional capabilities without anybody looking for it beforehand. So it is actually possible to use commercially available fibres for making structural batteries." This car model was built by scientists at Imperial College London. Its carbon fibre laminate roof would replace existing metallic components. SOUNDBITE (English) SWEREA-SICOMP HEAD OF RESEARCH LEIF ASP SAYING: "You can see that we have removed all the batteries that we had to usually drive the car. Now the only power source that we have in the demonstrator is the structural super capacity roof. If I unplug this rebuilt hand control I can light up the headlights of the car." But there are other places in the car, like the wheel-well, where carbon fibre laminate could be used to create and store power. Asp says that while such structural batteries might still take decades to produce commercially, they could eventually have widespread uses, not just in cars but in laptop computers or cell phones. Swerea is just one of several European research institutes involved in the project. Their aim is to increase the efficiency and popularity of electric cars, ultimately persuading a generation of car-buyers to leave fossil fuels behind.