Graphene Could Be Used to Increase Performance in Next Generation Fuel- Efficient Cars

Scientists at the University of Manchester (where graphene was first synthesized in 2004) have published new research which indicates that graphene may enable the production of cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars. According to the researchers, heat generated by graphene can be converted into electricity. This could be applied throughout the automotive industry which is always seeking to improve performance and fuel efficiency. Tesla Motors could be an example of a company which may employs the use of graphene in its cars in the form of graphene batteries.

Heat that is generated by a car’s engine is usually wasted energy. New hybrid cars could instead utilize this heat to re-charge batteries and power auxiliary functions such as the air conditioning system. Graphene is perfect for this purpose as it is a thermoelectric material. This means that graphene can convert heat to electricity.  Graphene exceeds in performance compared to conventional thermoelectric materials which can face challenges such as the ability to dissipate heat and electrical conduction efficiency.

A concern with conventional materials is that they often release harmful agents when exposed to high temperatures. Graphene is very safe and nontoxic.

The University of Manchester researchers in association with European Thermodynamics Ltd. Are paving the way for thermoelectric materials such as graphene to be used more extensively in the auto industry.

The research group, led by Professor Ian Kinloch, Professor Robert Freer and Yue Lin, supplemented strontium titanium oxide with a small amount of graphene. The result was a composite that was capable of converting what is usually wasted heat into an electric current. This was down over a wide temperature range, going down to room temperature.

Professor Robert Freer stated, “Current oxide thermoelectric materials are limited by their operating temperatures, which can be around 700 degrees Celsius. This has been a problem which has hampered efforts to improve efficiency by utilizing heat energy waste for some time. Introducing a small amount of graphene to the base material can reduce the thermal operating window to room temperature, which offers a huge range of potential for applications. The new material will convert 3%-5% of the heat into electricity. That is not much but, given that the average vehicle loses roughly 70% of the energy supplied to it by its fuel to waste heat and friction, recovering even a small percentage of this with thermoelectric technology would be worthwhile.”

The University of Manchester is considered to be the birthplace of graphene research and there are currently over 40 industrial partners working on graphene-related ventures in association with the £61m National Graphene Institute.

Graphene’s use in improving fuel efficiency, while enabling high performance should be encouraging to automotive manufactures, who strive to achieve higher performing electric and hybrid vehicles at a reasonable cost. Other uses of graphene in the automotive industry could be the use of graphene in the chassis or bodywork to reduce weight which would increase fuel efficiency and strength for safety. There are many automotive companies you can buy stocks in as a in indirect method of investing in graphene.

The findings were published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

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