smart fortwo cdi Brings Emissions Down to 86 gCO2/km
Ford Chennai Plant Begins Production of Ford Figo and New 1.2L Engine; New Flexible Engine Manufacturing Facility

European Researchers Developing Multifunctional Structural Composite Material That Can Double as Energy Storage

Researchers from Imperial College London and their European partners, including Volvo Car Corporation, are developing a prototype multifunctional structural composite material composed of carbon fibers and a polymer resin which can store and discharge electrical energy and which is also strong and lightweight enough to be used for car parts. Ultimately, they expect that this material could be used in hybrid and 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.

In the new €3.4-million (US$4.7-million) project, the scientists are planning to develop the composite material so that it can be used to replace the metal flooring in wheel well, which holds the spare wheel. Volvo is investigating the possibility of fitting this wheel well component into prototype cars for testing purposes.

The team says replacing a metal wheel well with a composite one could enable Volvo to reduce the number of batteries needed to power the electric motor. They believe this could lead to a 15% reduction in the car’s overall weight, which should significantly improve the range of future hybrid cars.

The potential for such a multifunctional composite material which can simultaneously carry mechanical loads whilst storing (and delivering) electrical energy, writes Dr. Emile Greenhalgh, project coordinator, Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, has been demonstrated by researchers at the US Army Research Lab.

In a paper presented at the Materials Research Society Symposium in 2005, South et al. provided three examples of multifunctional power-generating and energy-storing materials: structural lithium-ion batteries, structural proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, and structural capacitors. These systems were deliberately designed, the researchers wrote, so that material elements participating in power or energy processes are also carrying significant structural loads, a necessary condition for achieving mass savings through multifunctional design.

Polymer composites have now reached a level of maturity at which such adventurous and novel material configurations can be developed. The laminated architecture of fibre composites mirrors the configuration of many current electrical storage devices. In fact, carbon fibre (CF) composites are attractive as they are commonly used as both electrodes and high performance structural reinforcements; usually, the forms of carbon are different, but there is an opportunity to unify these roles with appropriate tailoring of both the matrix and the reinforcement.

—Dr. Emile Greenhalgh

Researchers at the Polymers and Composites Engineering group at Imperial had earlier been investigating development of a carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite which can act as a supercapacitor and show good mechanical properties (Young’s Modulus, Shear stiffness, compression strength, and peel and shear toughness) as a proof-of-concept.

The new material under development by the Imperial-led team could be charged by plugging a hybrid car into household power supply, the researchers say. The researchers are also exploring other alternatives for charging it such as recycling energy created when a car brakes.

For the first stage of the project, the scientists are planning to further develop their composite material so that it can store more energy. The team will improve the material’s mechanical properties by growing carbon nanotubes on the surface of the carbon fibres, which should also increase the surface area of the material, which would improve its capacity to store more energy. They are also planning to investigate the most effective method for manufacturing the composite material at an industrial level.

In addition, the researchers believe the material, which has been patented by Imperial, could potentially be used for the casings of many everyday objects such as mobile phones and computers, so that they would not need a separate battery. This would make such devices smaller, more lightweight and more portable.

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.

—Dr. Emile Greenhalgh

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. European academic and industrial partners include Swerea SICOMP, INASCO Hella, Chalmers, Advanced Composites Group, Nanocyl, Volvo Car Corporation, Bundesanstalt Fur Material forschung undprufung, ETC Battery and Fuel Cells Sweden.




Very interesting potential with many possible applications.

A Japanese group has also developed a material that captures solar energy and stores it like a battery.

This group seems to be doing even more on the storage size.

By combining both technologies many future e-cars parked outside could eventually become mostly energy self sufficient, specially during daylight hours.

What a smart way it would be to get off oil addiction.


Capacitor composites! could make a superlight vehicle with regenerative braking and no batteries.


"laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging."

This could mean shallow quick charging. Plug it in for 15 minutes and you have enough to run for another hour...interesting possibilities.


Light, strong, chargeable materials, PV materials, in-wheel motors, switchable EV batteries.. - the innovations for leaving 1000 moving part ICE engines are endless..


I thought of this when I first heard about Lithium Polymer batteries. Light weight and dual purpose...I wonder about the cost and charge density.


Sounds promising - a battery needs a casing and so does a battery powered device.

This is similar to Building Integrated PV. In the early years of PV, you paid for a roof, then paid for a PV panel, then paid for mountings, then paid someone to install the PV panels on the roof. It is more cost-effective to integrate the PV cells into the roofing material and pay once for installation.

Batteries for hybrids or BEVs are heavy, so integrating the battery into the boot floor sounds like a good place to start. Only snag is how do you replace the battery? Bolt-on panels like the bonnet & bootlid would make battery replacement easy but the weight would be higher up. A bonnet & bootlid with PV cells on the surface and Lithium Polymer storage cells in the composite might be possible.


"It is more cost-effective to integrate the PV cells into the roofing material and pay once for installation."

Haven't looked much but is anyone making PV Mediterranean roofing tiles?? That would be a boon to the solar industry in the sunbelts.


Unisolar makes PV roof tiles and Nanosolar is thinking about them as well. You could imagine half the roof of a house producing 10,000 watts for 5 hours a day being more than enough to run an EV for more than 100 miles per day as well as power the house on grid with net metering.

Calvin Brock

First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics , i will be always checking your blog thanks. Click Here

The comments to this entry are closed.