German technology research organization Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft announced recently that its engineers have developed a new lithium-ion car battery that is significantly lighter than competing designs, without sacrificing safety.
Batteries large and powerful enough to propel an automobile at high speeds over long distances are inevitably bulky, heavy items. But the German engineers found a way to drastically reduce the mass of the protective housing that surrounds and protects the lithium-ion batteries from damage during a crash.
Using fiber-reinforced composite materials, the engineers were able to reduce housing weight by more than 25%. Their prototype battery housing weights just 35 kilograms (77 lbs.), yet it passed strict crash-testing.
Furthermore, says the organization, the slimmed-down battery/housing unit is ready for mass production. Although carbon-fiber technology is common in aircraft design, carbon-fiber composite materials are challenging to work with, and have proven difficult to mass-produce in complex designs. Until now.
"It must be possible to mass-produce the lightweight components," said Manfred Reif, project manager for the joint project Fraunhofer System Research for Electromobility. The project is the fruition of an overarching plan to redesign green vehicles from the ground up, making individual components lighter, but equally safe. It all depends on the ability to mass produce the new lighter crash-proof housing.
"Up to now, this has not been possible in this form," said Reif. New aircraft produced each year number in the hundreds, but manufacturers need to be able to produce thousands of automobiles each year to keep up with demand. "The process chain is designed so that many steps can be run simultaneously," said Reif.
Shedding weight without sacrificing stability or safety should easily translate into green benefits due to energy savings.
The energy needed to accelerate a vehicle is directly related to the vehicle's weight. Lighter batteries will mean lighter vehicles that can go farther on a given change. And that should spell savings for the pocketbook and the planet.