Is a structural battery ideal for an electric vehicle?

Lightweight and fast electric cars are capable of moving many miles on a single charge. This car would have batteries that are part of its body. Since 2000, structural batteries have been in existence. This was when the U.S military produced the first ones, which were made from carbon fiber. The carbon fiber material is lightweight and conductive. During the company’s Battery Day, Telsa’s Elon Musk said they are beginning to incorporate batteries into their chassis. He added that it’s the right time for companies to get rid of the skateboard pack and build the battery cells into the vehicle’s body. Elon termed this as revolutionary. 

Speaking to Wired, a material scientist at Imperial College London, Greenhalgh Emile, said that Elon is trying to do something they did in 2010, saying that what they are doing is far ahead of Elon’s idea. Emile is also the Chair of Emerging Technologies at the Royal Academy of Engineering. Structural batteries have two layers of carbon fiber polymers. Between these two layers, there is a fiberglass insulation layer. One layer has a positive, and the other has a negative charge for cathode and anode, respectively. The carbon fiber material can also make the entire car’s body.

Designing and developing a structural battery that is working is not an easy thing. For example, in 2018, professor Asp Leif led the Chalmers University of Technology to build structural batteries. The worst thing is that the project team never made a working structural battery. Speaking to Smithsonian Mag, Leif said that the current carbon fiber market is made for electrical or structural applications. Leigh, Emile, and others are working very hard to ensure they develop a composite material that can be used for both applications. Emile said that the research took a period before getting enough finances for it to continue. Together with their teams, both of these scientists have finished a project meant to build aircraft structural batteries. 

There is a likelihood of structural batteries jeopardizing the future of lithium-ion batteries. This is because many carmakers are spending a lot of money on the development of structural batteries. For instance, a new battery plant is being built in Ohio by GM. In Europe, Volkswagen is converting part of its factory to manufacture electric vehicle batteries starting 2024. Major carmakers have a great interest in the electrification of transport.