07 Sep
Graphene could help convert a car's engine heat into electricity.

Research finds graphene can convert engine heat into energy

Even with the price of petrol falling in recent months, fuel remains one of the key expenses of owning and operating a vehicle. Money-conscious fleet managers seeking to boost their bottom line will naturally be wanting to look for ways to reduce costs at the pump.

While business petrol cards are an attractive solution, further savings can be unlocked for those willing to step into the realm of hybrid and electric cars. The initial outlay of such vehicles will typically be offset by the substantially lower cost of powering them. In fact, charging an electric vehicle is the equivalent of buying petrol at 26 cents per litre, according to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. 

We could be set to see even greater efficiency in the future, with researchers finding that graphene may help make the cars of tomorrow even more economical. 

What is graphene?

Research from the University of Manchester found that graphene is capable of taking the heat created by a vehicle's engine and transforming it into electricity.

What is graphene? Well, the International Business Times explained that, at one-atom in thickness, it is the thinnest material in existence. It's also 200 times stronger than steel, and this unique combination of traits has caused quite the stir in scientific and manufacturing communities around the world.

How could graphene improve fuel efficiency?

While we've long known that thermoelectric materials are capable of converting heat into electricity, they only function at around 700 degrees Celsius, a temperature far higher than that produced by a car's engine.

However, by adding graphene to these materials, the scientists were able to significantly reduce the operating temperatures.

Graphene could convert 3-5 per cent of a car engine's heat into electricity.

"Our findings show that by (sic) 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," said Mr Robert Freer, one of the lead researchers.

"The new material will convert 3-5 per cent of the heat into electricity. That is not much but, given that the average vehicle loses roughly 70 per cent 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."

While the use of graphene in the automotive industry is very much still in the nascent stage, its benefits are clear. If auto manufacturers begin to incorporate the super-material into their vehicles, fleet managers of the future may enjoy even greater fuel economy.