Volvo: New Body Panels to Make Batteries “A Thing of the Past”

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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Volvo Energy-Storing Body Panels Infographic

(Infographic courtesy Volvo)

Volvo says it has developed a method of building energy storage material that can be formed over a car’s body panels and will make conventional batteries “a thing of the past.”

According to the press release from Volvo, the material consists of carbon fibre, nano structured batteries, and super capacitors and offers lighter-weight, more-compact energy storage, a greater degree of cost-effectiveness, and eco-friendliness.

Volvo was reportedly the only automotive company involved in the European Union-funded research product that was lead by Imperial College London. The release said the project took place over 3.5 years and resulted in energy-storing car panels being equipped on a Volvo S80 experimental car. Quoth the release:

The answer was found in the combination of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, creating a very advanced nanomaterial, and structural super capacitors. The reinforced carbon fibres sandwich the new battery and are moulded and formed to fit around the car’s frame, such as the door panels, the boot lid and wheel bowl, substantially saving on space. The carbon fibre laminate is first layered, shaped and then cured in an oven to set and harden. The super capacitors are integrated within the component skin. This material can then be used around the vehicle, replacing existing components, to store and charge energy.

The material is recharged and energized by the use of brake energy regeneration in the car or by plugging into a main electrical grid. It then transfers the energy to the electric motor which is discharged as it is used around the car.

The breakthrough showed that this material not only charges and stores faster than conventional batteries can, but that it is also strong and pliant.

Volvo said it evaluated the technology by creating two components for testing and development: a boot lid and a plenum cover, both tested within the Volvo S80.

The release said the boot lid — or trunk lid to us ‘Mericans — is a functioning electrically powered storage component and has the potential to replace the standard batteries seen in today’s cars. It is lighter than a standard boot lid, saving on both volume and weight.

Meanwhile, Volvo said the new plenum demonstrates that it can also replace both the rally bar, a strong structural piece that stabilizes the car in the front, and the start-stop battery. This saves more than 50% in weight and is powerful enough to supply energy to the car’s 12 Volt system

Finally, the release said Volvo believes that the complete substitution of an electric car’s existing components with the new material could cut the overall weight by more than 15%, which would be not only cost effective but would also have improvements to the impact on the environment.

While we’re excited at the prospect of lighter EVs because of what that lighter weight will likely mean for both handling prowess and theoretical range between charging “fill-ups,” it scares us to think what body repairs would cost.

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