If car bodies are made from the right kind of carbon fibers, they could store electricity and reduce the size and weight of on-board battery packs – or even become the car’s battery itself, say engineers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology.
Varieties of carbon fiber made up of large, well-organized crystals are twice as strong as steel – but not a good battery candidate. But carbon fiber made from smaller, somewhat disorganized crystals is almost as strong as steel and able to conduct electricity much more efficiently.
Making car bodies from carbon fiber also would reduce vehicles’ weight, making smaller demands on batteries while also extending the cars’ range.
Carbon fiber car bodies would cost more, the engineers say, but the added cost could be offset by smaller, cheaper battery packs – if a battery will be needed at all.
In the long term, airplanes made of carbon fiber could reduce the size and weight of their fuel tanks, make travel more efficient (and perhaps cut the cost of airline tickets), and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and explosions in crashes.
The processes for manufacturing carbon fiber are well understood and automakers already are developing the materials and processes needed to turn them into car bodies.
As electric vehicles enter the mainstream early in the next decade, manufacturers will be looking for advantages in both marketing and fabrication. Lighter-weight, more efficient cars will help fill that bill. Electric cars able to store more power will be marketed as batteries that can run your appliances as your runabout sits in your garage or driveway.