Oz University announces breakthrough in car battery technology

Image: cardirect.com

Australia’s Queensland University of Technology situated in Brisbane believes that it has made a breakthrough in nanotechnology research that could result in a car powered by its own body panels, and the car would be driving on our roads sooner rather than later. Researchers there claim to have developed a graphene-based super-capacitor that is so lightweight that it could be integrated into the body panels of a car to power the electric motor.

The advantages of zero-emission electric cars are many: they don’t directly use polluting fossil fuels; they have breathtaking acceleration; and they are cheap to fuel up. The downside though is the lack of range and additional weight due to the over-reliance on the only suitable battery pack currently available – the somewhat heavy li-ion variety. To date, it is the energy density that has been the problem; whilst li-ion batteries can store a lot of energy, they are limited to how fast they can discharge it. Alternatively we could use a super-capacitor which can release energy in fast and large bursts, but they are limited to how much energy they can store.

QUT is working on new lightweight super-capacitors, which are a thin, strong, high-energy density film made of two all-carbon electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. This film is intended to be set in car body panels, roofs, doors, bonnets and floors. The idea, in the short term, is to combine them with li-ion batteries, where the super-capacitors can store enough energy to charge the battery in minutes.

Marco Notarianni, one of the researchers working with Professor Nunzio Motta on the project, believes that the technology could be ready within five years. He said,

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where super-capacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but they are able to deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries.

“Super-capacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared to several hours for a standard electric car battery.”

Dr Liu who is also on the research team said that currently the “energy density” of a super-capacitor is lower than a standard li-on battery, but its “high power density”, or ability to release power in a short time, is “far beyond” a conventional battery.

“Super-capacitors are presently combined with standard li-ion batteries to power electric cars, with a substantial weight reduction and increase in performance,” he said. “In the future, it is hoped the super-capacitor will be developed to store more energy than a li-Ion battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster – meaning the car could be entirely powered by the super-capacitors in its body panels.

“After one full charge this car should be able to run up to 500km – similar to a petrol-powered car and more than double the current limit of an electric car.”

With that sort of range the researchers are hoping to end the problem of range anxiety that seems to dog the world of electric cars.

Most critics think that the five-year window is a little ambitious given the long development time in the auto industry, but we would love to see an all-electric car that utilises super-capacitors largely made of cheap carbon-based materials capable of travelling 500 kilometres.

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