Electric cars could store energy in their carbon fiber bodies

You might not need a big, heavy battery to power an EV.

Electric cars typically need larger, denser batteries if they're going to meet the range expectations of people used to gas-powered vehicles, but available space and weight limit the size of that battery. Researchers might have a solution: turn the very body of the car into a battery. They've conducted a study showing that carbon fiber shells could serve as battery electrodes. The trick is to optimize the size and orientation of the fibers so there's a good balance between stiffness and the electrochemical traits needed to store energy.

While the carbon fiber with battery-friendly characteristics is slightly stronger than steel, the scientists believed companies might need thicker layers to make up for the difference. However, that might be worthwhile. If a vehicle shell could collect, conduct and store energy, it could reduce the weight "up to" 50 percent, Chalmers professor Leif Asp said.

There's a catch, though: even in its existing form, carbon fiber is expensive. While it's becoming more common, you still tend to see it in sports cars (plus some EVs) where price isn't as important as low weight and raw performance. EV makers might have to use carbon fiber sparingly if they want to provide the benefits of that battery storage without ridiculously high prices.