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Power Transportation Hardware

New Material Transforms Car Bodies Into Batteries 213

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the shocking-discoveries dept.
MikeChino writes "As battery manufacturers race to produce more efficient lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, some scientists are looking to make the cars themselves a power source. Researchers are currently developing a new auto body material that can store and release electrical energy like a battery. Once perfected, scientists hope the substance will replace standard car bodies, making vehicles up to 15 percent lighter and significantly extending the range of electric vehicles."
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New Material Transforms Car Bodies Into Batteries

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  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday February 08, 2010 @04:57PM (#31065824) Journal

    Is there nothing we can't do?

    Find a date for Valentines day?

  • by E. Edward Grey (815075) on Monday February 08, 2010 @04:58PM (#31065828)

    ME: Can you help me out here? I scraped a concrete barrier while trying to park my car.
    REPAIR SHOP: Sure we can. That will be seven thousand dollars.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @04:59PM (#31065850) Homepage

    Biofuels are not a long-term solution. Corn ethanol is over two orders of magnitude more land-intensive than solar thermal. Algae is just under one order of magnitude more land intensive. Plus, biofuel creation requires water, fertilizer, processing, etc. And the combination of needing "lots of water" and "lots of sun" can be rather mutually exclusive, as the sunniest places in the country are desert. Solar thermal is closed loop.

    If your goal is to turn solar energy into propulsion, pure electric is the way to go.

    Although the long recharge time is part of it

    That's what rapid charging is for.

    the main part is that you do not want to buy more battery than you are going to be using since the battery will be one of the most expensive parts of the car.

    Indeed, the real issue is price. But that will fall significantly with mass production. And the operating cost advantage will remain, so eventually, even if sticker shock remains an issue for prospective buyers, seeing a lease price that's significantly cheaper than a gasoline car's lease plus the cost of gasoline that month should eventually drive the point home.

    Furthermore, the main point to oversized gas tanks is to make it so that you don't have to fill up too often in your daily lives. Filling up is, after all, a pain; who wants to drive out of their way to pay for the privilege of pumping carcinogens in the middle of a blizzard? One of your average EV driver's favorite benefits is the fact that you start each day with a full charge. You don't even have to think about it in your daily life. The only time range comes into play is when you take long trips. But what's the point of having 700-800 miles on a long trip? Dear god, if you drive 700-800 miles without stopping to rest or eat, please don't do it when I'm on the road!

    Lastly: In 1989, a new top of the line battery hit the market: the nickel metal hydride cell. It boasted 45Wh/kg energy density. Today, just over two decades later, commercially available li-ion cells boast up to 220 Wh/kg -- almost five times higher -- plus an order of magnitude higher power density. This trend shows no signs of slowing down; rather, it appears to be accelerating. So take that into account when talking about range for the future.

  • by jimbolauski (882977) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:01PM (#31065866) Journal
    The problem I can't even fathom how to solve is the premature discharge problem, imagine the insulator being worn by vibration between the two panels or an accident. To make it safe the panels would need to be divided into cells that have 1 V max, how the hell do you divide up a solid panel into so many small pieces cheaply.
  • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Architect_sasyr (938685) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:01PM (#31065874)

    A larger gas tank costs almost nothing. The infrastructure is already in place for bio-diesel and ethanol and most cars can be converted. Electric cars will fill a niche, and that is all.

    Grazing costs almost nothing. The infrastructure is already in place for pasture and oats, and most horses can pull a cart just fine. The aw-toe-mo-beel will fill a nice, and that is all.

    Sometimes, for no reason at all (!!), some things just become huge. The car was reliant on reliable and obtainable fuel, and roads, and the world dealt with them just fine - I don't see why, when the option becomes viable and enough of the group-think follows it, electric cars will not follow the way of their predecessors.

  • Re:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@NospAm.gmail.com> on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:02PM (#31065894)

    Modern batteries can rapid charge in minutes (given adequate cooling) and yield hundreds of miles of range.

    There is also the issue of having an electrical grid that can handle that. Charging a battery in minutes with enough power to get you hundreds of miles takes a non-trivial amount of power, no matter how good your battery is.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mweather (1089505) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:26PM (#31066210)

    Electric is good for basic commuting where the route will be basically the same day after day, it is not good for if you do not know how far you will drive a day. Although the long recharge time is part of it, the main part is that you do not want to buy more battery than you are going to be using since the battery will be one of the most expensive parts of the car.

    Why not just make the batteries swappable at service stations? Then the only range that matters is the distance to the next service station.

  • by Jeng (926980) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:30PM (#31066258)

    You remember the story about someone wanting to power a car off of hydrogen that is produced by burning magnesium in water?

    Some ideas are just so stupid that they are put on the main page for us to poop on them.

    Why is this one stupid?

    Cost is first, this is built on top of carbon fiber which is already pretty damn expensive without also turning it into a battery. Yea, one day they may bring the cost down, but it is not in the reasonable future.

    Kaboom is second. Its not just about energy storage, its about where you store the energy. With electric powered cars and petrol powered cars the energy is stored in a safe spot in the car, the body of the car is about as unsafe as you can get.

  • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:30PM (#31066260)

    As the electric parts of the car were responsible for said fire, it seems resonable that electric cars will burst into flames more often than gas burning cars. Therefore, it can be logically deduced that electric cars will result in much more smoke than the fossil fueled alternatives.

    In what universe?

    My microwave oven leaked and caused me to be exposed to some radiation. As the microwave oven was responsible for the radiation, it seems reasonable that houses with microwave ovens will release more radiation than houses with thermonuclear reactors. Therefore, it can be logically deduced that we should all use nuclear reactors to cook dinner. Ipso facto, etc, etc.

    Look on the bright side: your train of logic has done an amazing job of demonstrating the "garbage, in garbage out" principle.

  • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:38PM (#31066378)

    You don't draw it from the grid. You draw it from a battery bank. The battery bank is in turn trickle-charged from the grid.

    The problem is, a typical gas nozzle runs about a megawatt. Theres 20 of them at my local quickie-mart or whatever its called. Sometimes all are in use. Often half are in use. Even in the middle of the night at least one is in use. "Trickle Charge" is still going to be a couple megawatts, and in an area without that kind of service.

    I admit the whole "fast charging" thing is pretty bogus. The furthest I've ever driven in one day was 500 miles and it was a torturous living hell. I dream of having a car that can't do that, so I have the perfectly socially acceptable excuse that my car simply can not go 500 miles per day. What a darn shame I'll be unable to sit in my car for 8 hours. Drat. Boo F-ing Hoo Hoo.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeng (926980) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:41PM (#31066420)

    Why not just make the batteries swappable at service stations?

    Too many variables. How much charge is in the current battery, how much wear and tear are in the battery you just got versus what you just gave, what happens when you get a partial dud, how many batteries can be swapped out a day, the physical labor of swapping batteries, what do you charge/how do you come to the cost and how does that make you competitive with your competition.

    I thought it would be a smart idea to change out the electrolyte instead of the whole battery, but it wasn't actually all that smart either.

  • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by couchslug (175151) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:13PM (#31066834)

    That would lock in permanent battery form-factors in the infancy of car development where we should not commit ourselves.

  • Re:Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by musicalmicah (1532521) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:38PM (#31067088)

    Biofuels are not a long-term solution. Corn ethanol is over two orders of magnitude more land-intensive than solar thermal. Algae is just under one order of magnitude more land intensive.

    I have a hard time parsing sentence construction like this and actually had to look up order of magnitude [wikipedia.org] to confirm that you are saying that corn ethanol uses 100 times more land than solar thermal (for the same output?), while algae uses 10 times more land than its solar counterparts. Is this true or am I misinterpreting you? If so, could you provide a citation, because that's a pretty huge amount.

  • by LenE (29922) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:26PM (#31067460) Homepage

    Not only that, but the use of carbon fiber for the plates brings other hazards with galvanic corrosion and much difficulty in preventing shorts. CF is really good at destroying metal fasteners. Throw it in a wet environment like a wheel well, roof or hood, and the problems erupt in very little time.

    This is a funding trial balloon. You can imagine lots of uses for something when you make a small swatch hooked up to alligator clips in the lab, but the practicalities of implementing this "technology" in the real world will never be solved. At least without more funding. This university is not interested in making body panels out of this material. They want someone with money to come by and fund their research for access, so they can make body panel capacitors.

    -- Len

  • by pclminion (145572) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:31PM (#31067494)
    Uh, the problem is not the lightweight vehicles. The problem is the HEAVY ones.
  • Re:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Monday February 08, 2010 @10:53PM (#31068560)

    This trend shows no signs of slowing down; rather, it appears to be accelerating. So take that into account when talking about range for the future.

    All good points, but you gloss over the whole issue of "rapid charging". Dumping the energy equivalent of a 20 gallon tank of gasoline (roughly the same as 2000 sticks of dynamite) into a compact mobile storage system in a matter of minutes is a non-trivial engineering effort. It's an active process: chemical changes are occurring, thermal losses are being dissipated, whereas filling a tank is rather passive in comparison and inherently safer. We'll have to reduce I^R losses considerably before that happens anyway. Face it, a liquid-fueled system make a hell of a lot of sense from a distribution perspective: the only question is whether that liquid needs to be gasoline. And, frankly, I'd rather be sitting astride a tank of relatively safe fossil fuel than I would a couple hundred kilowatt/hours of battery pack. Those things are not safe, and cannot really ever be made safe, and the lower the internal resistance the more dangerous they become when damaged.

    Furthermore, the existing power grid in the U.S. is not in any shape for a nation of pure electric vehicles. It simply was not designed for that purpose ... hell, we can barely handle all our air conditioners. Fact is, we have neither the generating nor distribution capacity, and such a buildout would be hideously expensive at this point. Maybe if we hadn't spent a couple trillion dollars on Iraq, and another trillion or so in bailout funds we could pull it off, but I doubt it's in the cards now.

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