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Volvo replaces EV batteries with energy-storing carbon body panels

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On: Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:48AM | By: Chris Weiss

Volvo replaces EV batteries with energy-storing carbon body panels

Volvo has detailed some cutting-edge reserach that it claims makes conventional batteries a thing of the past. The automaker believes a newly developed carbon fiber-based nanomaterial has the potential to replace heavy centralized battery systems by building energy storage into car components, such as doors and body panels.

Electric vehicles can't live without battery packs, and they can't live with them. Modern-day battery technology is not quite up to efficiently storing the ideal amount of energy necessary for vehicular travel. Not only does this limit most EV's ranges to around 100 miles on their best day, it creates a large, heavy battery that needs to be engineered around.

In a project funded by the European Union, 10 research entities have developed a new material that could some day replace traditional battery packs, cutting weight by about 15 percent. Volvo is the lone car manufacturer in the research group and highlighted some of the findings last week.

"The answer was found in the combination of carbon fibers and a polymer resin, creating a very advanced nanomaterial, and structural super capacitors," Volvo explains in a press release. "The carbon fiber 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."

Like traditional battery packs, the nanomaterial-based batteries can be recharged via regenerative braking and/or external charging. Volvo says that the material charges faster than traditional batteries, but it does not provide specifics.

After three-and-a-half years of development, the project has moved on to testing actual components. Volvo has equipped an S80 car with a trunk lid and plenum cover made from the energized nano-material, saying that they offer enough energy to power the car's 12V electrical system while saving weight versus traditional components. It believes that by using such body components in place of a battery pack, a fully electrical car could save more than 15 percent of weight.

This strategy also seems to have the advantage of simplifying EV construction and weight distribution. As it is, EV manufacturers have to design around large, heavy battery packs. By integrating the battery into the car body, the weight could be evenly distributed and balanced while saving space.

Of course, batteries are also very expensive, driving up the costs of EVs. It seems that cutting edge battery composite would be even more expensive. And what happens when that super-expensive body material is wrecked in a crash?

Volvo did not say when or where the technology might make it to market.

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