Electronic vehicle charging stations are soon to be a ubiquitous part of city landscapes. With the current drive to establish a workable infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles, these stations will be found everywhere from parking lots to retail centers to parking structures. Now, a Germany-based group of designers and researchers are rethinking both the look and the composition of these stations.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials, in collaboration with industrial partner Bosecker Verteilerbau Sachsen, are seeking to develop new materials and designs for charging stations based on eco-friendly principles.
Currently, most charging stations sport a rather utilitarian, industrial look that relies on steel cladding to protect cables, power outlets and electronic switchgear. The team’s solution is to replace the steel cladding with honeycomb panels made of a wood-plastic composite (WPC). The most widespread use of WPC is in outdoor deck floors, but it is also used for railings, fences, landscaping timbers, cladding and siding, park benches, molding and trim, window and door frames and indoor furniture. Manufacturers claim that wood-plastic composite is more environmentally friendly and requires less maintenance than the alternatives of solid wood treated with preservatives or solid wood of rot-resistant species.
WPC is a natural fiber composite made up of 70 parts of cellulosic wood fiber derived from sustainable resources to 30 parts of thermoplastic polypropylene. Its advantages, apart from the high proportion of sustainable raw materials, are that it is 100 percent recyclable and contains no tropical timber. The housings are manufactured in the form of modular components that can be clipped together as required to create a wide variety of different designs, thus allowing them to blend in with the surrounding architecture. Their modular structure also enables the composite panels to be removed easily during repairs. The researchers are testing samples of the material in a climate chamber to assess its resistance to extreme temperature conditions and determine which additives or types of coating provide the best weather protection. The team has almost completed its first prototype of the new WPC housing and is about to start outdoor testing.