Future cars could have the battery on the outside

Cars, mobile phones and computers could be powered by their bodywork, thanks to new battery technology.

In a new €3.4 million project announced today, researchers from Imperial College London are developing a prototype material which can store and discharge electrical energy while still being strong and lightweight enough to be used for car parts or computer casings.

Ultimately, they expect the material to be used in hybrid petrol/electric vehicles to make them lighter, more compact and more energy efficient.

They also believe that the material could be used for the casings of devices such as mobile phones and computers, so that they wouldn’t need a separate battery.

“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 satnav could be powered by its own casing,” says project coordinator, Dr Emile Greenhalgh from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London.

“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.”

Volvo is planning to use the composite material to replace the wheel wellin the trunk. It says this could lead to a 15 per cent reduction in the car’s overall weight, which should significantly improve the range of future hybrid cars.

The composite material is made of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, and should store and discharge large amounts of energy much more quickly than conventional batteries. In addition, it doesn’t use chemical processes, making it quicker to recharge than conventional batteries.