Scientists at the University of Central Florida charge an experimental battery capable of reinventing the manufacture of automobiles and spacecraft.
By reworking the idea of power sources, a UCF research group is creating a lightweight battery that would also serve as the outer shell of a vehicle in what the group calls its “power suit” project.
Led by Professor Jayan Thomas of UCF College of Engineering, the group plans to achieve this with nanotechnology – a supercapacitor composite material involving graphene arranged on carbon fiber in a fan-shaped structure, Thomas said.
“The benefit is that it’s lightweight and can increase mileage because you reduce the weight of the car, and on top of that you can store energy like your battery in the same composites,” Thomas said, who conducts his research at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center.
While reducing weight, the combination is believed to increase the range of an electric car by 25-30%; equivalent to about 200 miles per charge, Thomas said. The suit would be powered by the load, such as a battery, as well as when the car brakes.
“Its charge-discharge life cycle is 10 times longer than an electric car battery,” Thomas said.
The suit’s ability to reuse energy captured during braking is why research group member Deepak Pandey links their power suit to Marvel’s Black Panther sci-fi.
“Black Panther, you know whatever you shoot at him, his suit absorbs energy and reuses it. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Pandey, a Ph.D. student who has been working on the project since his launched four years ago. “When you brake, [the suit] absorbs the energy, then when you see a green light and hit the gas, it immediately discharges and gives a strong burst of current to give you that initial boost boost.”
The King of Wakanda, T’Challa, used his electric suit, capable of storing energy from heavy blows, to chase a Lexus through the lit streets of Busan, South Korea. UCF is not looking to do anything so explosive. In fact, quite the contrary. The power combination of the UCF vehicle wouldn’t be explosive at all – or at least that’s the goal.
After all, having the battery outside of a car is potentially problematic in a crash, but explosions wouldn’t be a threat in the case of UCF’s suit.
“In this case, we’re using a water-based electrolyte, so you don’t have to worry about gasoline or any kind of material that could catch fire,” Thomas said.
But with water comes a problem in itself, because batteries can’t hold that much charge per cell. However, by using a technique called “asymmetric supercapacitors”, the battery can come quite close to a standard charge per cell. A typical lithium-ion battery can hold 3.4 volts per cell. UCF’s single-ended supercapacitors can hold 2.2, Pandey said.
“And we think we can still improve on that,” he said.
At the moment, the research group has only developed a small prototype remote control car – the suit itself almost resembles that of Black Panther, the way the black surface shimmers in the light, and although the material While carbon fiber isn’t as expensive as Marvel’s fictional metallic “vibranium,” it’s still quite expensive.
Aerospace companies are turning to using carbon fiber as building material since it is both light and strong. For UCF purposes, carbon fiber is ideal for conducting electricity. However, the power suit looks towards other less expensive shell materials.
“Basically, we’re still working with some of these materials that would be 10 times cheaper than carbon fiber and would be useful for this type of research,” Thomas said. Thomas hasn’t revealed what those materials might be because they’re a bit of a trade secret for now, he said.
Thomas’ group found success in their composite material powering the wheels of a small car after about a minute of charging. As the composite clung to a toy car with batteries, its wheels groaned at a high rate while spinning rapidly, much to Thomas and Pandey’s delight.
The group is working in tandem with NASA scientists to develop the technique for future space travel and satellite development. However, NASA declined to comment on the story, saying it had legal concerns over the disclosure. However, in a paper published by UCF, project study co-author Luke Robinson said, “There are many potential infusion points in the economy as well as for future space exploration. … This is, in my mind, a huge leap forward in technological readiness to get us where we need to be for NASA’s mission infusion.”
As for readiness, the project is close to the desired level for NASA use; but developing for commercial use could take about five more years, Thomas said. But an unnamed automaker has already shown interest in the power suit and is in talks with Thomas and his group about its applications.
“For this product to be on an electric vehicle or a spacecraft, that’s the dream, isn’t it?” said Thomas.
©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Quote: Research team charges with “power suit” as new battery for electric cars, spacecraft (2022, May 4) Retrieved May 5, 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-05 -team-power-battery-electric-cars.html
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