A new study has demonstrated the capability of carbon fibers to function as battery electrodes that can directly store electrical energy. According to the researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, this discovery could create new opportunities for structural batteries where carbon fiber becomes an integral part of the energy system. Further, multifunctional material like carbon fiber is used in many vehicles to make them stronger and lighter which could potentially contribute to weight-reduction design in vehicles and aircraft of the future.
In vehicles, weight reduction has great importance to extend the driving distance per battery charge while aircraft needs to be much lighter to be powered by electricity.
Professor Leif Asp studied significant attributes of carbon fiber that allows to perform more tasks than simply storing energy or act as a reinforcing material. The findings will allow the car body to act as a battery than simply being a load-bearing element, according to Asp, carbon fibers can also be used for other purposes including harvesting kinetic energy for conductors and sensors of both energy and data.
The study has been recently published in the journal Multifunctional Materials, a research team led by Asp described how the microstructure of carbon fiber affects its electrochemical properties such as the ability to function as electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.
The team conducted research on microstructure of various types of commercially available carbon fibers. The material with small and poorly oriented crystals was found to have good electrochemical properties but lower stiffness while carbon fiber with large and highly oriented crystals showed relatively low electrochemical properties and greater stiffness.
According to the researchers, they have now discovered the way to manufacture multifunctional carbon fibers that can achieve high energy storage capacity while ensuring sufficient stiffness. They explained that a slight reduction in stiffness could be ideal for multiple applications including cars. While the carbon fiber market is currently dominated by expensive variants whose stiffness is tailored to aircraft use, the new findings will enable the carbon fiber manufacturers to broaden their utilization.
After successfully conducting the studies, the researchers will team up with both automotive and aviation industries. For aviation industry, according to Asp, the thickness of carbon fiber composites may require to be increased which will compensate for lower stiffness of structural batteries and in turn improve the energy storage capacity.