Cactus skin aids electric car efficiency

By Ethan James

A cactus-inspired skin could hold the secret to creating a more efficient electric car.

That's the proposition from CSIRO and Korean scientists in a paper published in the scientific journal Nature on Thursday.

They've created a membrane that holds water like cactus, one they say has the potential to boost the performance of fuel cells in electric cars.

Currently electric cars must carry a power-sapping radiator, water reservoir and humidifier to ensure their fuel cells stay cool.

CSIRO researcher Cara Doherty says the membrane in the fuel cell works in a similar way to tiny pores in the skin of a cactus that close to conserve water in dry conditions and open at night to absorb moisture.

"The (membrane's) cracks widen when exposed to humidifying conditions, and close up when it is drier," she said.

"This means that fuel cells can remain hydrated without the need for bulky external humidifier equipment."

Professor Doherty says it makes the cells up to four times more efficient in hot and dry conditions.

The collaborative research could also be applied to existing technology including machines for water treatment and gas separation.