Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New Material Transforms Car Bodies Into Batteries

Comments Filter:
  • Good (Score:3, Funny)

    by 2names (531755) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:33PM (#31065394)
    I really hope we get this electric car thing figured out soon because I am just about sick of following smoke belching vehicles every day.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Funny)

      by maxume (22995) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:41PM (#31065530)

      You just need to learn how to be a leader.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Jeng (926980)

      Even once they do perfect the electric car I would imagine there is no getting rid of the internal combustion engine.

      Diesel powered vehicles will slowly turn to bio-diesel options and gasoline powered engines will slowly turn to ethanol power.

      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

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:59PM (#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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Algae is just under one order of magnitude more land intensive.

          Algae grow in water, you fucking moron.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Rei (128717)

            Typically tanks of water, you anonymous coward. Exposed to air, your optimal fuel-producing species end up being attacked by predators and diluted by species that produce less (or no) fuel.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by TheRaven64 (641858)
              Note, however, that the land just needs to be somewhere where there is sunlight, it does not need to be good farmland. There is lots of desert space in the middle of the USA that would be ideal for algae farms but terrible for farming conventional crops.
              • by Rei (128717)

                And where do you get the water to produce the algae in the desert? Even when you use enclosed tanks, some of the water still ends up as fuel, and some gets wasted in the fuel production process.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jeng (926980)

          Corn ethanol is over two orders of magnitude more land-intensive than solar thermal.

          You'll make your point better if you don't bring up the worst possible case. Corn ethanol is only done for political purposes because it makes no economical sense.

          Ethanol from cellulose based waste looks promising. Always good when a waste stream can be turned into a productive product.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol#Cellulosic_ethanol [wikipedia.org]

          Bio-diesel will probably be bigger than ethanol though.

          • Re:Good (Score:5, Informative)

            by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:11PM (#31066806) Homepage

            I mentioned the worst and the best. Do I really need to spell out all of the midpoints?

            Cellulosic ethanol is estimated at up to 1,500 gallons/acre/year. At 30mpg, that's 45,000 miles/acre/year.

            Ausra's proposed 177MW Carrizo solar thermal plant was to be situated on 640 acres. That's 277kW/acre. Assuming a capacity factor of about 0.3 (clear skies, heliostat), that's about 727,000,000 Wh/acre/year. At 250Wh/mi, that's ~2,900,000 miles/acre/year.

            • by hclewk (1248568)

              You might as well be comparing effectiveness of recycling aluminum cans and mining for new aluminum. Yeah, the mining operation is going to produce more aluminum per square mile, but does that matter?

              What really matters is what the resulting cost is. I have no idea which is more cost effective, I just know that you are looking at the wrong thing. Also, I would surmise that it's is much more likely that we will switch to ethanol _and_ electric (i.e. hybrid vehicles) than switch to electric all together.

              • Re:Good (Score:5, Informative)

                by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:46PM (#31067136) Homepage

                What really matters is what the resulting cost is.

                1) Land use absolutely *does* matter. As does water use, fertilizer use, etc. It matters for wildlife habitat (incl. rainforest), for food production, for algal blooms, for countless things.

                2) From a cost perspective, solar thermal wins there, too. EVs are really cheap to run. Even if cellulosic ethanol could manage to sell for the same price as gasoline (and note that 30mpg ethanol is notably better than 30mpg gasoline, in the above calculations) -- say, $3/gal -- it would be 10 cents per mile. Even if you had to pay 20 cents per kWh for the solar thermal (most next-gen solar thermal is predicting less than that), rather than the US national average for electricity of 10 cents per kWh residential (and notably less for industrial power), that would be five cents per mile.

            • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 08, 2010 @10:46PM (#31068200)

              Thanks for mentioning solar thermal energy instead of photovoltaics.

              One other solution that has not been considered is the use of solar thermal energy to synthesize gasoline and diesel fuel from carbon dioxide. Sandia is working on it with their "CR5 thermochemical engine". It's estimated at 150,000 gallons/acre/year of REAL, drop in replacement GASOLINE - not ethanol, not diesel. At 24 MPG (U.S. average), 3,600,000 miles/acre/year. It is clear that thermochemical engines will beat biofuels in efficiency.

              Of course, the real question is cost and rare element usage. No one likes to talk about that.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by musicalmicah (1532521)

          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 khallow (566160)
            I don't know how the biofuels compare to solar thermal, but I think that probably is the correct gap between corn and algae.
        • Re:Good (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Skal Tura (595728) on Monday February 08, 2010 @08:24PM (#31067450) Homepage

          Li-Ion isn't even the best, LiPo can deliver more per Kg, and higher peaks without voltage drop off, thus being the #1 choice for RC models. Altho, they are restrictively expensive, hazardous to handle, can't take temperature variations and only lasts for couple of years.

          As for Biofuels: There's methods to use WASTE for making biofuel, they are doing that here in Finland, and sell 85% bio-ethanol, 15% gasoline fuel, made from biowaste. Downside is it's not as energy dense, thus you consume more along with the fact that many gaskets can't use them. The plus-side is that an engine designed for biofuel can have better compression (or higher boost pressure), burns very clean, and smaller engines can be made more powerfull due to the ethanol compression characteristics.

          Biofuel made from waste solely is not taxing to the environment, quite the contrary, and does not require extra landmass. Algae based can use waste aswell.

          Growing corn etc. for biofuels is the stupidest thing ever. Also, corn is far from the best to use for it. It's just that the corn industry is so large, so much supply, but not enough demand, they have to keep it afloat somehow.

          Also, the land mass etc. problems for biofuels is just propaganda. Biofuels can be made in small areas aswell, and when waste is used as the source, there's no problem with it. Besides, water is plenty... This planet is mostly water afterll

        • Re:Good (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 08, 2010 @09:42PM (#31067896)

          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!

          I'm sure some semi-truck drivers have done it. For us regular drivers, who stop and rest after 350 miles, will the car be recharged in 12 hours? That depends on how standardized, and available charging is. The average motel today probably would bill extra, if it were even possible (big parking lots, no outlets, etc.) or if unattended charging was allowed.

          But, I'm not trying to be a kill-joy. I'd love to have an electric car or motorcycle with a range of between 40 and 80 miles. I'm an electronics engineer, so I'd even have fun building my own solar and wind power to charge it.

          On that note, I've recently done some comparisons between rechargeable batteries and capacitors.
          To summarize: batteries win with normal approaches (low cost and complexity), but high voltage capacitors have the best performance and greater usable energy capacity. Technically capacitors should outlast batteries. And, in theory, a high voltage capacitor is simpler to build than either a supercap or battery, so the cost could be lower in mass production.

          I used the SI unit Joules, instead of Wh, because it's easier to visually compare numbers greater than 1, as opposed to using enginnering notation for milli, micro, nano, and pico.
          The following information doesn't take into account usable energy, because that's dependent on how the things are used. A capacitor will outperform a battery in high current usage. Capacitors can also be totally discharged to 0V without being damaged and batteries cannot (most battery Ah ratings take that into account).

          Convert Watt-hours to Watt-seconds (Joules)
          E=W*3600

          Convert battery to Joules
          The product of voltage V, amp hours Ah and 60 squared, is Joules E (watts per second)
          E=V*A*3600

          Convert capacitor to Joules
          Half of Farads multiplied by the square of Voltage
          E=0.5*F*V^2

          Fun math:
          One Kilowatt Hour is 3.6MJ (3,600,000J, 1000Wh*3600)
          A single AA NiMH is 10.4KJ (10,368J)
          A L-ion 3.7V 4Ah is 53.28KJ (53,280J)
          A 16V, 100F capacitor is 12.8KJ (12,800J)
          A 12V 40Ah battery is 1.728MJ (1,728,000J) (Two 12V 40Ah batteries are nearly 1KWh, 3.456MJ)
          A (real) 6.5KV, 9500uF capacitor is 200.7KJ (200,700J) ~ a 1x1x2 foot sized industrial capacitor
          A (theoretical) 26KV, 9500uF capacitor is 3.2MJ (3,200,000J)
          A (theoretical) 300KV, 1000uF capacitor is 90MJ (90,000,000J, 25KWh)

          All the capacitors are physically bulkier than batteries, typically twice the size or worse for a given amount of Joules.

          Recently pulled from wikipedia
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_(electricity) [wikipedia.org]
          Secondary Battery Chemistries
          NiCd 1.2V 0.14 MJ/Kg
          Lead Acid 2.1V 0.14 MJ/Kg (0.1232 MJ/Kg, found for real battery)
          NiMH 1.2V 0.36 MJ/Kg
          NiZn 1.6V 0.36 MJ/Kg
          L-ion 3.6V 0.46 MJ/Kg (0.635 MJ/Kg, found for real battery)
          *Zinc-Air 1.55 1.35-1.65 MJ/Kg
          (*electrical or mechanical recharging is possible)

          Aluminum-Air is similar to Zinc-Air, but I don't much have information on it.

          Interesting bit of information about capacitors (as battery substitutes)
          A 1V, 2F capacitor is 1J (Linear)
          A 2V, 1F capacitor is 2J (Exponential)
          A 1V, 10F capacitor is 5J (L)
          A 1V, 20F capacitor is 10J (L)
          A 10V, 1F capacitor is 50J (E)
          A 20V, 1F capacitor is 200J (E)
          High voltage capacitors are capable of storing more energy than high farad capacitors. Because an increase in voltage is an exponential increase in energy, and an increase in farads is a linear increase in energy.
          Supercaps are safer to work near, cheaper, and physically smaller (but heavier) than high voltage capacitors. Unless I'm mistaken, the highest voltage capacitor type is a vacuum capacitor (vacuum is the dielectric) hence it being potentially more lightweight than any other type of capacitor.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ScrewMaster (602015) *

          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

      • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Architect_sasyr (938685) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:01PM (#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:5, Insightful)

        by mweather (1089505) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:26PM (#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 Khashishi (775369)

          too abusable

        • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jeng (926980) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:41PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

            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.

            Look at Vanadium Redox batteries - where the battery is essentially a fuel cell sized for the power and would stay with the car, while the electrolyte is pumped through it from/to separate storage and the tankage is sized for the energy capacity.

            Swapping electrolyte on such a system would be quite practical. (And you could be credited for the state-of-charge of the par

        • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

          by couchslug (175151) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:13PM (#31066834)

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

          • Not sure. One could normalize
            - connectors (i don't know if cables are workable, or if it must needs be fixed plugs)
            - locking mechanism
            - management/supervision protocol
            - form factor
            - accessibility

            One such example would be PCI-Express: one slot, 3 form factors (normal, low-profile, mini), plenty of different cards, various options (number of lanes, supplemental power), some leeway outside the norm (dual slot cards)...

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by crispytwo (1144275)

            All we need are two brushes on the bottom, and a slot to put the car in

            voilà, no batteries needed!

            woot!

        • BetterPlace (Score:3, Informative)

          by Cyberax (705495)

          BetterPlace (seriously, that's a company name) plans to do exactly this: http://www.betterplace.com/solution/charging/ [betterplace.com]

          They're planning to install battery swapping stations in Israel first.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by obarthelemy (160321)

        You're overlooking 2 things:

        1- for daily commutes, you start each day with a full battery, which is more convenient than having to do regular trips to the service station.

        2- for longer trips, batteries could be swappable, making longer trips possible with not much more pain than currently. that means
        2a- coming up with an easy and standard way to do it (government regulation may be helpful, if it can prevent market fragmentation), and
        2b- re-thinking ownership, because people will be leery of swapping their b

      • Even once they do perfect the electric car I would imagine there is no getting rid of the internal combustion engine.

        Hmmm, I wonder about that. I'm not disputing that combustion is a better method of mobile energy use for long haul, it means you don't need to carry all of the components required to use the energy, but external combustion does make it much easier to burn dirtier fuels completely, meaning less refinement and higher tolerance for varying grades of biofuel.

        I have a feeling, just a feeling mind

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:50PM (#31065692) Homepage

      I really hope we get this electric car thing figured out soon because I am just about sick of following smoke belching vehicles every day.

      The tech is here. Modern batteries can rapid charge in minutes (given adequate cooling) and yield hundreds of miles of range. The issue is cost. For most EVs, battery packs are generally limited in size by price, not volume or weight. And not just battery cost that's the problem; quality AC drivetrains are expensive as heck right now. You can't even use a lot of mass-produced accessories with EVs if the conventional accessory requires a gasoline engine to be running. The good news is that it's all about volume. Your typical LFP or manganese li-ion pack combined with an AC drivetrain uses almost no rare or expensive raw materials. You have lithium salts ($4-8/kg), phosphoric acid (in the case of LFP), iron powder, a porous plastic membrane, graphite, etc in the battery pack; your motor optimally uses copper windings, but can also use aluminum; the inverter also uses copper or aluminum, plus things like silicon carbide for thyristors; etc. The expenses are primarily the huge amounts of labor and capital costs per unit because of very low volumes and because of the lack of production process refinement.

      BTW, the article summary is wrong (and partly the article, too). What they're talking about is not a battery; it's a capacitor. Which means that even if the whole body is made of the stuff, it's not going to be enough energy capacity for reasonable range. Plus, you have to consider how it'll change your vehicle's weight, structural strength, etc. There is always a cost-benefit analysis to consider.

      Still, it could potentially be useful for making less-critical structural elements (say, the bellypan) to use for buffering (rather than energy storage).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        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, Informative)

          by Rei (128717) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:10PM (#31065990) Homepage

          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.

          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.

          And in case anyone's curious, yes, they do make extremely high power chargers. TARDEC got one last year that does 800kW [gas2.org]. I don't know how much that one cost, but ones in the ~250kW range are typically ~$125k-ish (and about the size of a vending machine). That may sound like a lot, but then again, a gas station generally costs $1-2m to build, and you have to pay for tear-down at end of life (tearing down a charger is a net gain, from scrap). Plus, expect prices to fall over time.

          Chargers that big generally require that their connectors or even their cables be cooled. Which makes me wonder when we'll see the next logical step in that evolution -- having the charger provide coolant for the battery pack instead of the EV providing it. After all, why make the EV haul around a powerful cooling system when your charger already has one and is already bringing coolant all the way to the vehicle? All the vehicle should need is a connector for the coolant and ducting for it to travel through. If you use something like supercritical CO2 as a coolant, you won't even have to worry about coolant contamination or residual coolant being left over in the system.

          The current fast-charging pseudo-standard, TESCO, doesn't do that, though. But in the future, I expect we'll ultimately see it.

          • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

            by vlm (69642) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:38PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Rei (128717)

              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.

              Oh, certainly -- your "gas station" has to be able to "average" the amount of power it feeds out, plus losses -- there's no way around that. Of course, running counter to this i

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Fred_A (10934)

          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.

          A simple fix would be to build more roads going downhill instead of blindly following the contour lines.
          It would save a lot of power !

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        The good news is that it's all about volume. No, that's the bad news. While normally costs would go down with increased volume, there is a limited supply of Lithium and other elements used in these batteries. Meaning that if we tried to make every car fully electric, the marginal cost of each battery would go up, not down.

        I agree, the small amount of energy that could be stored in these panels would only be useful for a hybrid vehicle; it would not appreciably increase the range of a pure electric vehicle.
    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      Smoke belching vehicles? How about electric car companies blowing smoke? Electric cars have been vaporware for years; they keep predicting that they'll bring an affordable one to the general market in "a year or two". Wait a year or two and it's "another year or two."
      • by Rei (128717)

        Smoke belching vehicles? How about electric car companies blowing smoke? Electric cars have been vaporware for years; they keep predicting that they'll bring an affordable one to the general market in "a year or two".

        What the heck are you talking about? Who's been saying that, apart from NEV manufacturers?

  • Can't Wait. (Score:5, Funny)

    by cohensh (1358679) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:33PM (#31065396)
    I can imagine it would make a multi-car pile up quite exciting. Just another effort to make real life more like a Michael Bay movie.
  • I thought my rusting chebby was acting like a battery.

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:36PM (#31065446) Homepage Journal
    According to TFA their plan is to make the body panels act as one plate of a huge capacitor. I can't even begin to list all the technical flaws in their proposal; just reading it made my head hurt. They really should run their promotional pieces past a real engineer before spreading them all over the net.
    • Nonsense.

    • by jimbolauski (882977)
      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.
      • Well... I can see that being done.

        If we are talking industrial production, that should be no different than making large quantities of PCBs. Only with somewhat simpler design.
        Just print the thin layer of the conductor mesh over both sides of the insulator (preferably something foldable like fabric), cut it into shape, cut out the now "open" pieces (easy with an automated optical/electric/magnetic/Chinese system - take your pick) and reconnect where needed, isolate the whole thing on both sides.
        There. You ha

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        The problem I can't even fathom how to solve is the premature discharge problem. Thanks... I feel better now knowing that I'm not the only one that experiences "premature discharge" now and then... is there a support group for this?

        Yes, I too believe the first minor fender-bender would likely short the whole system out. Even if you managed to never hit anything, normal mechanical fatigue would eventually break down your insulation. I've seen capacitors literally explode when they short out (it vaporizes th
    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:06PM (#31065940)

      According to TFA their plan is to make the body panels act as one plate of a huge capacitor. I can't even begin to list all the technical flaws in their proposal; just reading it made my head hurt. They really should run their promotional pieces past a real engineer before spreading them all over the net.

      I have visions of car crashes involving brilliant blue flashes and passengers exploding from the sudden discharge of electricity. Then again, we're already driving around in steel coffins filled with gallons of explosively flammable liquid so there's not much left to lose.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LenE (29922)

      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

  • Car batteries want to be 200 to 300 volts. This is achieved by stringing a bunch of cells together in series. If body panel or structural member is a cell, connecting in series will be difficult if not impossible. If parts were made from layers of material (i.e. cells in series within a body panel) then you've got this relatively thin 300V battery on the outside of the car waiting to make contact with stuff in a crash. Normally batteries are kept inside a strong box with a relay to disconnect from the outsi
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      The typical car battery is 12 volts with 6 cells linked in series with ~2 volt drop for each. Hardly the 200-300 volts that you're thinking are required. Even if a 200-300 voltage potential was required, you could take a low voltage source, convert to AC and step up the voltage with a transformer. Not that big of a deal.

      • The typical car's starter battery isn't. The traction battery in a hybrid is, and I'm guessing so is the battery pack in a full electric.

      • Re:Problem with that (Score:4, Informative)

        by vlm (69642) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:52PM (#31066574)

        Hardly the 200-300 volts that you're thinking are required.

        He's anthropomorphizing it when he writes "Car batteries want to be 200 to 300 volts".

        Real engineers know you can gin up a set of equations to optimize an overall system. Not surprisingly, an electric cars optimum voltage and current end up suspiciously nearby, yet somewhat below, industrial heavy equipment and diesel electric traction motors of the same power rating. Lower it a bit because the power levels are a bit lower (plenty of 3000 HP locomotives, not many 3000 HP electric cars... yet). Also lower it a bit because insulation requirements are a bit stricter for morons. Lower it a bit for temperature derating, run the car in death valley, etc. Also lower it a bit for battery reliability, plates shorting, vibration etc. You end up in the 300ish volt range for "car power levels"

        Similarly, your average electric motorcycle should be happy around 60 volts. Which is suspiciously close to where they seem to be.

      • You don't get it. (Score:3, Informative)

        by gr8_phk (621180)
        You can't do shit with 12 volts. Hybrid cars use at least 150V, and electric cars (which I'm working on at this very moment) will be using 200-400V batteries (depends on the application). Voltage conversion is roughly 90-95 percent efficient, so throw away 10 percent of your range right there. However, we typically convert the high voltage down to run the low power stuff. If you wanted to do a 12V car and wanted to get 100kW you'd need over 8000 Amps DC. And yes, we're running motors around 110kW as tractio
    • I think even Mr. Tesla would have had trouble with this really...

    • Car batteries want to be 200 to 300 volts. This is achieved by stringing a bunch of cells together in series. If body panel or structural member is a cell, connecting in series will be difficult if not impossible.

      Great, even more incentive for tailgaiters...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nacturation (646836) *

      Car batteries want to be 200 to 300 volts.

      Car batteries don't like being anthropomorphized.

  • I can see the headlines now. People being electrocuted when involved in an accident which causes a "short" over the car frame...
  • by TimHunter (174406) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:53PM (#31065736)

    Once again, in less than 30 minutes the Slashdot crowd finds multiple fatal flaws in the results of years of work by highly-trained educated people. And frequently without even bothering to RTFA! Is there nothing we can't do?

    NOBODY expects the Slashdot Community! The chief weapon of the Slashdot Community is presumption...presumption and arrogance...arrogance and presumption.... Our *two* weapons are presumption and arrogance...and cynicism.... Our *three* weapons are presumption, arrogance, and cynicism...and an overweening sense of entitlement.... Our *four*...no.... *Amongst* our weapons... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as arrogance, presumption...I'll come in again.

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:57PM (#31065824) Journal

      Is there nothing we can't do?

      Find a date for Valentines day?

    • by Jeng (926980) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:30PM (#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.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        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.

        TFA is a summary 3 links removed from the original (and vastly more informative) press release:
        http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_5-2-2010-10-26-39 [imperial.ac.uk]

        The researchers say that the composite material that they are developing, which is made of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, will store and discharge large amounts of energy much more quickly than conventional batteries. In addition, the material does not use chemical processes, making it quicker to recharge than conventional batteries. Furthermore, this recharging process causes little degradation in the composite material, because it does not involve a chemical reaction, whereas conventional batteries degrade over time.
        ...
        ...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.

        The 3-year European Union funded project includes researchers from...

        So in 3 years we'll find out whether or not this technology is going to be plausibly brought down to the consumer level.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      As an engineer, it is my JOB to think of reasons why something might not work, not to blindly accept the claims of scientists desperate to receive continued funding. I'm skeptical of claims about the Moller SkyCar too; "smart" people have been working on that for over 30 years. That doesn't mean it is not a scam.
    • by gr8_phk (621180)
      Actually, I write traction motor control software for a living. I'm a little more qualified to talk about electric vehicle tech than some Ph.D. trying to get grant money. The funny thing about slashdot is that it's a mix of total morons and highly competent people. In this instance, it doesn't take much competence to see the flaws.
  • by chinmay7 (776189) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:54PM (#31065776) Homepage
    Why do I have to click through two blogs with fluff to reach the original article on PhysOrg? - http://www.physorg.com/news184585514.html [physorg.com]
  • 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.

  • neat idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:58PM (#31065840) Journal

    The idea is a very interesting one and the problem isn't so much the risk of electrical shock (done correctly there isn't one) but the cost of the material and the ease to which the material can be replaced if it ever fails. With normal car batteries, replacing them is easy. Just unhook the +/-
    from the battery and lift it out. With the car body acting as a battery, if something fails, the entire material must be removed. This sounds to me to be fairly expensive as well as having to replace the material which its self may have a fairly significant cost. Over time that will be less the case but the problem of replacing a faulty "battery" remains.

    • With normal car batteries, replacing them is easy. Just unhook the +/-

      I know what the "+" and "-" leads do, but "/" ? Is that the "spin" lead or something?

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I'm not worried about electrical shock as much as the first fender-bender to ding one of the panels turning it into an arc welder. This is also a step backwards from unibody construction; any components designed for storing energy would have to be made from easily replaceable panels.
    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      I would say there is a real and present danger of shock when your battery is you vehicle skin. I've seen a lot of cars with puncture damage. Puncturing such a charged sheet, be it battery or capacitor, would result in rapid, high-amperage discharge. This would cause melting and vaporization of the material, releasing toxic vapors and probably starting the whole vehicle on fire. Adjacent panels, when exposed to the radiant heat and spattering molten metal, would have a high likelihood of melting their in
  • It's a capcitor! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reg106 (256893) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:26PM (#31066220)
    The device is a capacitor that can also support mechanical load. The first hint is that they call it energy storage, but never actually call it a battery (though it may "replace a battery"). In the linked video, they are using a custom device (indicated by the Imperial College in the upper left), that is also labeled as capacitor charge-discharge indicator. The storage device appears to be two sheets of carbon fiber mesh held together with a "multifunctional resin", i.e. a nonconductive material with a high dielectric constant that is also capable of supporting a large mechanical load (or rather, binding to the carbon fiber so that it supports a large mechanical load, i.e. a composite). The idea of using ultracapacitors to replace batteries has been around for a long while. Ultracapactiors usually use esoteric materials and have problems with leakage over long periods of time, but have met with success in some applications. The military has funded a lot of research for ultracapacitors to replace batteries for the electronics on missiles, an ideal application since missiles potentially sit on the shelf for years, and then need to function precisely for a very short period of time. (the cap would be charged as part of the launch procedure.)

    In the example mentioned in the video (GPS case made of the material), I'm not sure why it would reduce wiring, since the capacitor would still need to be charged, just as if it were being fed by the cars electrical system. I suspect there are some real advances in the work, but the interesting features don't come through in this video for public consumption.
    • by vlm (69642)

      Ultracapactiors usually use esoteric materials and have problems with leakage over long periods of time,

      Yeah, what he said, also immense internal resistance compared to say, a camera flash cap, or a nicad battery.

      A farad is a wonderful thing to have... unless it has ten ohms of internal resistance.

  • Lithium Ion batteries degrade whether used or just stored. Whether it's technically possible or not it must make care manufacturers drool at the thought of cars that only last 3 years.

  • Bonus (Score:5, Funny)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:47PM (#31066502) Homepage

    Researchers are currently developing a new auto body material that can store and release electrical energy like a battery.

    And it would make the neighbor's dog peeing on my car a pay-per-view moment.

  • Lets slap a layer of solar collecting material onto this and grab some more power too.

    One thing that occurs to me though. What happens if you get in an accident and the material is compromised? Would there be a potential electrocution issue?

    Maybe you could also build security into this.. if you break in, the body zaps you..

  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Monday February 08, 2010 @09:38PM (#31067880) Journal

    As they can round up the autobots (especially that prick bumblebee) and convert them directly into energon cubes!!!!!

[Crash programs] fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month. -- Wernher von Braun

Working...