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16 April 2010 British Council

The battery of tomorrow

The new nanomaterial casing would eliminate the need for bulky batteries
The new nanomaterial casing would eliminate the need for bulky batteries.
Image Credit: Stock.Xchng.

No bulky batteries

The wave of technological innovation over the last decade, from mobile phones, to laptops to hybrid cars has been shadowed by one problem – battery power. But a new composite material being developed at Imperial College London, with European partners including the Volvo car company, may unlock the door to a new wave of invention. The idea is that the material casing of a car, or a mobile phone, would be able to store and conduct electricity, meaning there would be no need for bulky batteries. But, as Dr Emile Greenhalgh from Imperial College’s Department of Aeronautic explains, the project is a real challenge. ‘It’s not just technically demanding,’ he says, but it also needs to develop a material that has conflicting requirements.

Strong and conductive

He leads a team of five academics from different departments, who each bring different specialisms to the project. The composite material they are developing is made out of carbon fibres and polymer resin. But as Dr Greenhalgh explains, ‘the resin from a mechanical properties point of view, needs to be rigid to carry the mechanical loads. But it also needs to allow ion conduction, which is what you need for electrical properties. So we’ve got this conflict in terms of what we want the material to do.’ The team’s approach is to create an interpenetrating network of structural resin and electrical resin at the scale of nanometres. ‘If you do things at a nano-scale you can achieve things that you couldn’t do with conventional materials,’ says Greenhalgh, ‘and that’s what we are pursuing as a philosophy in the department.’

New kinds of design

A car made from this material could then draw power from any part of its bodywork, decreasing the size of the battery. Reducing the body weight of a hybrid car for example would give it greater range. Without the need for an internal battery, mobile phones could be credit-card sized. If the material delivers on its promise devices such as these could appear in a decade. But the most interesting thing, believes Greenhalgh, is that this material ‘will give designers more freedom. I’m anticipating that it will offer people a completely different way of designing engineering structures.’

Source: British Council /...

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