New Materials for Building Hybrid and Electric Cars under Development

Advanced Composites Group Ltd (ACG), part of the Composites Division of Umeco plc, is engaged in a €3.4 million project with scientists to develop a new composite material which could revolutionise car design and manufacturing.

Announced at the beginning of February 2010 by the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, the project is aimed at developing cars which will be powered by their own bodywork. Researchers from Imperial College London and their European partners, including Volvo Car Corporation and ACG, are developing a prototype material which will be lightweight and strong enough to be used for car body parts and also discharge sufficient electrical energy to power a car. With assistance from ACG, they are also planning to investigate the most effective method for manufacturing the composite material at an industrial level.

Ultimately, they expect that this material could be used in hybrid petrol/electric vehicles to make them lighter, more compact and more energy efficient, enabling drivers to travel for longer distances before needing to recharge their cars.

For the first stage of the project, the scientists are planning to further develop ACG’s composite materials so that they can store more energy. The team will improve the material’s mechanical properties by growing carbon nanotubes on the surface of the carbon fibres. This should increase the surface area of the material, and also improve its capacity to store more energy.

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.”

The 3-year European Union funded project includes researchers from the Departments of Chemistry, Aeronautics and Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology at Imperial College London. In addition to ACG, European academic and industrial partners include Swerea SICOMP, INASCO Hella, Chalmers, Nanocyl, Volvo Car Corporation, Bundesanstalt Fur Materialforschung undprufung, ETC Battery and Fuel Cells Sweden.

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