Brain Food: Rethinking Energy Storage and Design with Smart Materials

Apr 10, 2014

In the near future, so-called smart materials may eliminate the need for batteries in hybrid cars and in solar panels. Cornell Ciocanel is a mechanical engineer at Northern Arizona University. He’s developing a new smart material that’s strong enough to be used in the body of a car and also stores electricity like a battery.


“A car has so much surface area. All of the outside shell of the car is a surface; a surface that you can use to store electricity in it. So if you replace front panels, rear panels, side doors, inside of the door panels, with this material, you provide both the structural strength that you need to protect the passengers in the car, but in the same time, a mean to store electricity,” he says.

Ciocanel says this new multi-functional composite material makes hybrid cars lighter, by eliminating battery space, and that means they can travel father between charges. He says it can also be built into solar panels, storing excess electricity and taking up less space than batteries.

“Oftentimes, you cannot store electricity, or you cannot deliver it, rather, to the grid because the grid simply doesn’t need it. So, what do you do with that? You are simply going to waste it? Or, you better off, are going to store it somewhere. So what we do, we design this material so that it’s going to be part of the structure of the solar panel. So it’s going to store some of the energy that is converted, some of the electricity that is generated by a solar panel and release it when the grid needs it,” he says.

Ciocanel predicts this smart material is going to reduce the cost of generating power in the future, and the need for power storage.