BAE Systems reveal the battery tech powering the Lola electric racecar, and its possible future uses

Lola Drayson B12 SideWhen Lola-Drayson unveiled the B12/69EV electric racing car at the Low Carbon Racing Conference in January, all eyes were on the gorgeous bodywork and jaws dropped at the notion of 850bhp and a 200mph-plus top speed, making it a candidate for the world’s fastest electric car record.

BAE Systems has now revealed details about the batteries that will power the B12/69EV’s on-board systems, and the technology is equally as cutting-edge as the car itself.

They’re called “structural batteries” and are made from carbon fiber mixed with nickel-based battery chemistry, creating a battery that can be shaped to form complex structures. In this case the batteries will be incorporated into key aerodynamic parts of the car, such as the rear wing.

The Lola will represent the first major test of structural battery technology, and as BAE’s Stewart Penney told the BBC, “It’s only when you shake rattle and roll these things on a real-world platform that you uncover issues.” Last year, BAE built a small drone aircraft and a torch using structural batteries.

Lola Drayson B12 BatteriesCharging and Electric Motor Power.

Despite sounding very high-tech, the structural battery system is charged in a conventional manner, through a power socket or by solar energy for example. However for the racing car, an inductive charging system has been developed, where the car will rest of special pads inside the pit garage.

So, if structural batteries are powering systems in the car, what’s powering the electric motors? It’ll be using a new generation of  A123 Systems’ Nanophosphate lithium ion, or LiFePO4, cells and like BAE’s batteries, they’ll be used here for the first time.

A123 Systems has a strong background in powering quick cars though, as its cells saw the “Venturi Buckeye Bullet” hit a record-breaking 307mph in 2010. The company will also be supplying similar batteries to BMW for use in its ActiveHybrid range of vehicles.

Alternative Uses.

Returning to BAE’s structural batteries, powering racing cars is only the beginning for the technology, and the future plans will be of interest to any gadget freak.

As demonstrated on the Lola, intricate parts can become batteries, and BAE expect to use lithium-ion and lithium-polymer battery chemistry to create the chassis of anything from phones to laptops, and even fabric structures such as tents and electric blankets.

Of course, as the battery will actually form the shell of a device, it’ll make the fiddling about to replace an iPhone battery seem simple by comparison.

Despite these uses, BAE initially developed structural batteries for military use to help reduce the bulk and weight of packs soldiers must carry, and are therefore they also have the added bonus of being fire-resistant and extremely long-lasting.

The Future?

Using a carbon fiber phone where the battery is a part of its unibody construction is a while away yet, unfortunately, as BAE Systems is still working on getting the batteries to retain more power.

Right now, a similarly sized, nickel-based composite battery returns about a tenth of what a regular laptop battery offers, plus they’re still expensive to make. Power will increase when lithium cells are introduced.

As for the Lola-Drayson B12, it’ll be used for “time attack” demonstrations around the world to generate interest, and it’s hoped a future version of the car will be ready for the 2016 season of the FIA’s Formula E championship.