Why Porous Carbon Fiber is So Important to Car makers
Carbon fiber has been slow to catch on in the automotive industry due to its cost. Sure, we’ve seen car companies dabble in carbon fiber here and there, but none have fully embraced it for production cars designed to sell among the masses. Porous carbon fiber, a new composite material now being developed, is believed by some to be the game-changer that car companies have been looking for.
It’s one thing to make mirrors or tail fins of highly-polished carbon fiber that looks good at car shows. It is an entirely different matter to make an entire car body out of the material and still keep the overall cost of the vehicle down. Thus far, the high cost of producing carbon fiber has thwarted every attempt by manufacturers to produce an all-carbon fiber body that average customers can afford, explains Salt Lake City’s Rock West Composites.
Porous carbon fiber, which is not necessarily cheaper to manufacture, could be the solution for one major reason: it has enhanced energy storage capacity. Why does that matter? Because porous carbon fiber could be the material car companies have been looking for in their quest to create an affordable electric car with a decent range.
Carbon Fiber Can Store Energy
Research revealed in 2018 clearly showed that carbon fiber can be used to store and conduct electricity. That research immediately got people thinking about the possibility of making an electric car body out of carbon fiber with the hope that it will also double as a storage solution. In other words, the car’s body would act as its own battery.
While intriguing, the idea was met with a healthy dose of speculation over standard carbon fiber’s ability to store enough electricity to realistically reduce the number of batteries on board an electric car. That’s where porous carbon fiber comes in.
Porous carbon fiber is a carbon fiber material manufactured with evenly spaced pores distributed throughout the fibers themselves. With the right number of pores spaced uniformly across a matrix, the resulting material is much more efficient at storing energy. The secret is increased energy density. If you can increase it, you can increase both storage capacity and conduction.
More Carbon Fiber, Fewer Batteries
The goal engineers are now working on is being able to create a porous carbon fiber that would provide an energy density high enough to make it a practical replacement for traditional batteries. They hope to end up with a material that carmakers will embrace for electric cars.
As we all know, the automotive industry has been promising an electric car revolution for decades. It is a revolution that hasn’t come to fruition due to the limits of battery technology. Even the best batteries don’t store enough power to make them practical, unless you load up the car with a lot of them. But more batteries mean more weight and a higher price tag.
Porous carbon fiber is suddenly important to carmakers because it could be the missing link. A porous carbon fiber car body would still be expensive, but if it could replace an entire bank of batteries the costs would offset. In short, porous carbon fiber could make it possible to produce the electric car everyone wants: an energy-efficient car with comparable range and a reasonable price.
Scientists and engineers are not yet confident about declaring porous carbon fiber ready for prime time, but they are on their way. As research continues, it is becoming increasingly more apparent that porous carbon fiber is the material carmakers have been waiting for.