Professor Leif Asp

Swedish scientists crack massless power storage

In our minds, batteries are often perceived as throwaway items which are distinctly separated from the machines and devices we use. That could be about to change.

A major breakthrough by Swedish researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology suggests that batteries of the future could be transformed from something disposable and separate to structural batteries instead. In effect, the power source for a new generation of EVs, for example, could be built into the very fabric of the car.

This would unlock a new field of technology known as massless energy storage. By adjusting a vehicle to make the battery part of the load-bearing structure itself, the battery becomes effectively massless, greatly reducing the weight of the vehicle overall.

A pressing issue

Battery technology, especially for EVs, was previously constrained by weight. EV batteries are constructed from dense materials, and this can pose a serious problem for vehicles. If the battery is too heavy or too dense, the car risks being rendered less efficient, with the battery acting as a drag on its performance.

The likes of the Tesla S Model from 2015 carry a battery weighing 540kg. By contrast, researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology intend to use structural massless batteries made from conductive carbon fibres. These fibres are woven into the car’s infrastructure, serving as an electrode, conductor and material capable of carrying out load-bearing.

If you look at consumer technology, it could be quite possible within a few years to manufacture smartphones, laptops or electric bicycles that weigh half as much as today and are much more compact. We are really only limited by our imaginations here

– Professor Leif Asp, Department of Industrial and Materials Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology

What this gives us is the potential for EVs which are far lighter than predecessors. Participants involved in this research have been working painstakingly over more than a decade, trying to find suitable carbon fibre materials which have the qualities needed for a workable massless battery.

More streamlined batteries

Researchers revealed last month that the structural massless battery would have an energy density of 24 Wh/kg. While this is equivalent to 20 per cent of the capacity found in conventional lithium-ion batteries, the reduced weight of the vehicle would mean it requires less energy to move it. Lower energy density also reportedly means increased safety, according to the researchers involved.

The Swedish National Space Agency is showing interest in the concept of structural batteries, helping finance a project to enhance research even further. Leif Asp, who heads up the project, believes it could result in a structural battery with an ultimate energy density of 75 Wh/kg, plus a stiffness of 75 GPa. Such stiffness would make this massless battery as strong as aluminium, but far lighter.

Lighter structural battery technology could have a wide range of practical uses, resulting in more efficient EVs, smartphones, laptops and electric bikes. The point is simple – this new way of powering technology could revolutionise the way we work and travel for years to come.

Feature photo credit: Marcus Folino, Chalmers University of Technology

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