When the future of the automobile is discussed, the conversation usually surrounds technologies like autonomous driving, machine learning and electro-mobility. However, there are more interesting technologies than just processors and sensors. Some of the tech that will shape the future of the automobile will be structural. And graphene could be the next big structural tech used in cars moving forward.

What is graphene? It’s the product that remains after breaking down graphite to create a one-atom thick material. Despite being one million-times thinner than a human hair, it’s the strongest material ever tested. My brain isn’t sciencey enough to figure that one out but it’s remarkable stuff. As it turns out, though, it can be used in the automotive world to not only help make cars lighter but make them stronger and safer as well.

Scientists at the University of Sunderland have been working with graphene and, as it turns out, it can be reduced to a power and sprinkled into carbon fiber while it’s still a liquid, before it’s been baked solid. So that means you can have graphene-impregnated carbon fiber body panels, bumpers and even structural bracing, all of which will help reduce weight (as graphene is almost weightless it’s so light) but increase strength and safety.

Graphene molecular structure

Such a technology, if implemented properly and in a cost-effective manner, could revolutionize the way manufacturers build cars. Drastically reducing weight will increase efficiency across the board, allowing manufacturers to be able to fit smaller engines and batteries in their cars, while maintaining the same, or even more, power and range.

We need electric cars to develop more quickly than they are and graphene can help by reducing weight while also increasing structural safety. When the Tesla Model S first debuted it was the safest car the NHTSA ever tested, thanks to having increases structural bracing where an engine used to be. However, the Model S also weighs as much as a small moon. The implementation of lighter materials, such as graphene, could change that. And it’s cyclical, so reducing the weight allows for fitting less batteries, which reduces the weight again.

Also, supercars that are largely made from carbon fiber, like the BMW i8 and McLaren 720S, could be made entirely from graphene-impregnated carbon fiber. That would make them extremely light, thus allowing for much smaller engines to deliver the same performance and increasing efficiency. So this sort of tech could keep the internal combustion supercar alive for much longer.

Technologies like this, while not as flashy as autonomous driving, could be just as important to the future of the automobile as the battery-electric vehicle.

[Source/Top Photo: Autocar]