Volvo Develops Body Panel Batteries
Electric cars like the Tesla Model S, BMW i3 and BMW i8; and hybrids like the Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1 are changing the face the automotive world. They represent the fastest, newest and best engineers, designers and brands have to offer. But, they all have one problem… one Achilles heel… batteries.
Batteries are big, heavy and cumbersome. Granted they have improved exponentially over just a few years (Think of the evolution from the original Honda Insight to the McLaren P1), but they are still a pain to integrate into a car. Basically, the entirety of an electric car or a hybrid needs to be designed around the batteries.
But, what if you could change that? What if you could spread out small, lightweight and super-efficient batteries around a car? Volvo is trying to do just that. As part of a European Union research project, Volvo is working on a way to replace conventional car parts (like body panels) with lightweight versions that incorporate the necessary batteries.
Volvo has developed a way to sandwich super capacitors between layers of carbon fiber (of a decklid, roof panel or door panel) which can charge faster than conventional batteries and hold enough juice to do their job (like power a Volvo S80’s 12 volt electrical system). According to Volvo, replacing conventional body panels and batteries with these thin super capacitor batteries inside carbon fiber panels can save up to 15 percent of a car’s weight.
This project is three years in the making, and if it ever makes it onto the road, Volvo’s body panel batteries could be a serious game changer. The video below probably does a better job explaining this technology than I do, so check it out below. And, for more info, check out the press release under that.
Volvo Battery Press Release
Volvo Car Group has developed a revolutionary concept for lightweight structural energy storage components that could improve the energy usage of future electrified vehicles. The material, consisting of carbon fibers, nano-structured batteries and super capacitors, offers lighter energy storage that requires less space in the car, cost effective structure options and is eco-friendly.
As part of an EU-funded research project, including nine other major participants, Volvo Car Group was the only car manufacturer in the project. The project identified a feasible solution to the heavyweight, large size and high costs associated with the batteries seen in hybrids and electric cars today, whilst maintaining the efficient capacity of power and performance. The research project took place over three and a half years and is now realized in the form of car panels within a Volvo S80 experimental car.
The answer was found in the combination of carbon fibers and a polymer resin, creating a very advanced nanomaterial, and structural super capacitors. The reinforced carbon fibers sandwich the new battery and are molded 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 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.
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.
The results so far
Today, Volvo Car Group has evaluated the technology by creating two components for testing and development — a trunk lid and a plenum cover, tested within the Volvo S80.
The trunk lid 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 trunk lid, saving on both volume and weight. 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 percent in weight and is powerful enough to supply energy to the car’s 12-volt system
It is believed that the complete substitution of an electric car’s existing components with the new material could cut the overall weight by more than 15 percent. This is not only cost effective but would also have improvements to the impact on the environment.