Thinking Tech

Video: car's body frame doubles as an EV battery

Video: car's body frame doubles as an EV battery

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A team of researchers have come up with a novel way to add extra energy storage by thinking outside the box, or in this case, outside the battery.

It's all about the battery -- at least that's what they say. Much of the talk surrounding the' long term viability of electric vehicles has hinged on whether automakers can figure out a practical way to create a battery that stores enough electricity for long range driving.

Now, a team of researchers have come up with a novel way to give electric cars more juice by thinking outside the box, or in this case, outside the battery.

Engineers have experimented with different battery materials and designs in an effort to ratchet up a battery's capacity to where the cars can be driven beyond the 100 mile-per-charge distances offered by models such as the Nissan leaf, but have yet to produce a road-ready pack. While the most  straightforward approach -- developing larger batteries -- adds several hundred pounds, which consequently cancels out much of the intended benefits. Tesla's long range battery pack, for instance, weighs around 1,000 pounds.

To get around this problem, researchers at Imperial College London have built a electrical vehicle test model that extends per charge driving range by installing vehicle body components that double as capacitors.

Capacitors technology is simpler than what's found in batteries in that the components only store electrons instead of producing them, which allows them to be made from common materials such as glass or ceramic. The material used in the lab is a blend of ultra-lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced composites infused with lithium ions.

Even with the reduction in weight, the energy boost these panels offer would, at this point, be fairly modest. But continued development may eventually lead to capacitors that can "store energy as efficiently as efficiently as lithium-ion batteries," which means car owners can expect to squeeze about an extra 80 miles per charge, according to the New York Times.

“Even though the panel will not be large enough to power the entire car, it could provide enough power to switch the engine off and on when the car is stopped at a traffic light,” researcher Emile Greenhalgh told the New York Times.

(via New York Times)

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure