• Sep 24th 2010 at 7:03PM
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Tomorrow's Volvo car – Click above for high-res image

Where can you put an electric car's power source? Pretty much anywhere, as Volvo's new "Tomorrow's Volvo Car" sketch shows us. The idea here is to build a rechargeable battery into the car's body panels, and Volvo is saying that, "tests are currently under way to see if the vision can be transformed into reality."

Volvo Cars is working on these car panel batteries as part of a three-year, 3.5 million Euro (around $4.7 U.S. at today's exchange rate) materials development project started by the Imperial College in London earlier this year. Volvo, along with eight international partners (none of them car manufacturers), describes the material as a:
composite blend of carbon fibres and polymer resin is being developed that can store and charge more energy faster than conventional batteries can. At the same time, the material is extremely strong and pliant, which means it can be shaped for use in building the car's body panels.
If an electric car were to be built with this material, Volvo says, the car would be 15 percent lighter than one made with steel body panels. Not only that, but by using the battery panel in the hood, doors and roof, the car would have a range of about 80 miles. Right now, this is all in the testing phase, and the prototype battery – not big enough to power the car on its own – is shaped to fit into the spare tire well. Of course, there are other applications – mobile electronics, natch – but we want to see a car made from this stuff, pronto.

[Source: Volvo Cars]


Tomorrow's Volvo car: body panels serve as the car battery

Imagine a car whose body also serves as a rechargeable battery. A battery that stores braking energy while you drive and that also stores energy when you plug in the car overnight to recharge. At the moment this is just a fascinating idea, but tests are currently under way to see if the vision can be transformed into reality. Volvo Cars is one out of nine participants in an international materials development project.

Among the foremost challenges in the development of hybrids and electric cars are the size, weight and cost of the current generation of batteries. In order to deliver sufficient capacity using today's technology, it is necessary to fit large batteries, which in turn increases the car's weight.

Earlier this year, a materials development project was launched by Imperial College in London that brings together nine European companies and institutes. Volvo Cars is the only car manufacturer participating in the project. With the help of 35 million SEK (approx. 3.5 million EURO) in financial support from the European Union (EU), a composite blend of carbon fibres and polymer resin is being developed that can store and charge more energy faster than conventional batteries can. At the same time, the material is extremely strong and pliant, which means it can be shaped for use in building the car's body panels. According to calculations, the car's weight could be cut by as much as 15 percent if steel body panels were replaced with the new material.

Volvo Cars contributes its expertise
The project will continue for three years. In the first stage, work focuses both on developing the composite material so it can store more energy and on studying ways of producing the material on an industrial scale. Only in the final stage will the battery be fitted to a car.

"Our role is to contribute expertise on how this technology can be integrated in the future and to input ideas about the advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and user-friendliness," says Per-Ivar Sellergren, development engineer at the Volvo Cars Materials Centre.

Initially, the car's spare wheel recess will be converted into a composite battery.
"This is a relatively large structure that is easy to replace. Not sufficiently large to power the entire car, but enough to switch the engine off and on when the car is at a standstill, for instance at traffic lights," says Per-Ivar Sellergren.

Immense interest in the project
Many people have visited the Imperial College website, which contains information about the project, and have seen the video on YouTube. Per-Ivar reads the visitor comments with immense interest.
"Almost daily I read new ideas about how this technology could be used or further developed. The potential is enormous and it's great that so many people are interested," he says.

If the project is successful, there are many possible application areas. For instance, mobile phones will be able to be as slim as credit cards and laptops will manage longer without needing to be recharged

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is also a concept that A123's founders originally wanted to chase after, a "sprayable and self organizing" nanostructured battery. The business with which they achieved success was a rather nice sidetrack.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm positive they use the matrix-resin as a capacitor. The bigger the surface, the more you can store. I agree with many for body panels this is not the best idea; collisions and containment (think rain, dust and dirt) will most certainly not be beneficial for the capacity. But think internal parts like the wheel well he mentioned + the chassis (structural part of the car that really benefits from the mechanical strength/weight ratio of composites). Since it works like a capacitor, I say use it mostly for regenerative action as it can not hold charge as good as a chemical battery (which in turn, will reduce impulsive and thermal load on the battery). It is mentioned it's still a long way until specific energy levels of caps are met let alone batteries, but in the mean time let's keep a close eye.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would not want to even look at an Insurance Quote for this car. Every "fender bender" will cost thousands of dollars. The Collision premium would be too expensive.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Some people read articles, other people only comment on them.

        First, a modern "fender bender" is already going to cost thousands. Second, the fenders on the car illustrated in the article are not part of the system being described. Your fender-bender scenario involves only traditional body panels.

        Paranoia, fear, uncertainty doubt - how does your lot get things done?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would assume there are no dangerous chemicals to be spilled on the passengers with a side collision?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Their diagrams show a polymer instead of a liquid (e.g. an acid) catalyst. Most batteries that are meant for a gradual discharge are solid state. The lead-acid batteries that are in typical car batteries are designed for short bursts of energy and aren't meant to be discharged over long periods of time. Even your typical Duracell or Energizer cells are solid state.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I guess they have very loose definitions of solid. I have had alkaline cells leak and ruin electronics. I realize that the leakage is not as corrosive as acid, but it is certainly not solid state and it is damaging. Not sure I buy the idea that a chemical reaction to store electrons can occur with any great efficiency with a solid electrolyte.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If the 80 mile range with 15% lower weight than the steel body panels (and presumably a LOT less than the equivalent battery pack?), is real, then this is an very good thing, indeed.

      The obvious next question is what happens to the power in a crash? Presumably, they have already considered this?

      Sincerely, Neil
        • 4 Years Ago
        That was my first thought.

        What's it going to cost to fix your car when it gets banged up in a parking lot?
        How's the battery system gonna withstand being shorted out?
        Are the batteries going to explode when hit?

        None of these no-brainer questions are addressed here.
        This seems like a terrible idea.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ordinarily, I don't agree much with your posts, but you make an excellent point here. While I was reading the article I too was thinking about where the stored energy goes in the event of a wreck. It's not a maybe. Wrecks are a certainty. Also, Joe makes a very good point about the insurance costs.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Actually putting the batteries on the outside body panels (doors, fenders, hood) doesn't seem like a cheap idea to me in the long-run either with minor accidents causing electrical problems and higher repair costs. But maybe the in-between-the-lines text says that they can produce arbitrarily-shaped batteries, so there's no need to accomodate a big chunk of battery anywhere in particular. It could be under the front and rear seats, in the firewall, center 'tunnel' or tucked anywhere it's convenient with little additional cost.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This or something like it is probably what they're working with. http://www.gizmag.com/hybrid-cars-powered-by-bodywork/14097/
        • 4 Years Ago
        Thanks for the link.
        That is the same one, as it is Imperial College and Volvo.
        It is certainly a capacitor not a battery, as they mention that there is no chemical energy involved.
        The plan is to increase energy density by using carbon nanotubes, as the specific energy rises with the surface area.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This concept will probably never see the light of day. Imagine what a battery pack swap would cost! If Volvo has recovered from the Ford years enough to make serious battery invasions I would be shocked , no pun intended.
      • 4 Years Ago
      wow. really?
      to save money Volvo has combined strategic thinking with a day care center haven't they?
      a structural battery. on top of the difficulty of maximizing the energy density and lifespan of a battery chemistry you really need 10 years of very high uneven structural tension and vibration. right..

      3.3million euro... oh my God

      • 4 Years Ago
      These are all good questions, but the story does not say they are putting this into their EVs now, they are spending 3.5M Euros to study the idea. I am sure all the sage like questions mentioned here were assessed before they even got funding.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's a fascinating idea, if a little blue sky. This would be the car I would have made up into a replica of an old-fashioned car, with wheel motors, to take in my time machine, as the look on the mechanic's face as he looked for the power source would be a treat!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wouldn't this type of battery be more susceptible to temperature changes? It would seem that even a color choice might effect efficiency.
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