Hybrid vehicles may be significantly more eco-friendly than petrol-based cars, but difficulties in areas such as vehicle weight and less-than-optimal distances before recharge continue to pose problems for hybrid designers. Imperial College London has announced that its researchers, in tandem with European partners such as Volvo Car Corporation, are working on a prototype car bodywork material that is lightweight and, more importantly, would be able to store and discharge electrical energy, effectively allowing a car to act as its own long-lasting battery.
As explained by the college, current hybrid cars utilize an internal combustion engine, which is put into effect when the driver accelerates, and a battery-powered electric motor, which activates when the car is cruising. A large quantity of batteries is required to power the motor, which increases the vehicle’s weight, as well as requiring charges at short intervals. The composite material being developed consists of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, which enables the material itself to store and discharge large quantities of energy at a faster rate than conventional batteries. Inevitably, the car will require charging. Options being explored are plugging a vehicle into a household power supply, or even recycling energy that is created when a vehicle’s brakes are applied.
Dr. Emile Greenhalgh, project coordinator from Imperial College London’s Department of Aeronautics, believes ” the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material.” Greenhalgh postulates that the application of the new material could extend beyond cars, suggesting “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.”