EUROPE: New technology for hybrid vehicles

Researchers at Imperial College, University of London, say their latest research project on a new composite material could improve the efficiency of hybrid and electric vehicles by storing and discharging energy within the structure of a car itself.

Funded by the European Union, the three-year 'STORAGE' project has received EUR3.4 million (US$4.4 million) to develop a new energy-storing technology that would be built into the vehicle's very structure.

"The car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material," says project coordinator Dr Emile Greenhalgh.

The composite material is made of carbon fibres and a polymer resin. Unlike regular batteries, the composite material does not require a chemical process to produce energy, which researchers expect will cause less degradation and quicker recharging.

As an added bonus, this material is much lighter than regular batteries, reducing the cars' weight and thus extending the time between recharges for electric vehicles.

"We're at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise," Greenhalgh says.

Vehicles are not the only products that could benefit from the composite material. The researchers hope the material can be used for electronic devices such as mobile phones or laptops.

The energy-storing material would replace the devices' bulky batteries, making them thinner in design and allowing them to run longer without recharging.

Researchers from a variety of Imperial College departments, including chemistry, aeronautics, and chemical engineering and chemical technology, will be leading the research team.

Greenhalgh and his team have joined with European research institutions such as the Swedish Institute of Composites, Chalmers University of Technology, ETC Battery and Fuel Cells and Volvo Car Corporation (all in Sweden), as well as the Integrated Aerospace Sciences Corporation in Greece, the Advanced Composite Group in the UK, Nanocyl in Belgium, and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Germany.

During the three-year project that began last February the team will also research the best way to manufacture the composite material at an industrial level.