One of the problems with designing an electric vehicle is figuring out where to fit the battery pack. Volvo – as a part of a European Union research project – is working on a way around this issue by replacing standard parts with lightweight components that double as batteries on both conventional and plug-in vehicles. The image above shows one such piece on a Volvo S80. While looking like nothing more than a carbon fiber plenum cover, the piece is actually a battery pack that can store and supply enough energy for the car's entire 12-volt power system.

The parts are made by sandwiching super capacitors (which can charge faster than standard batteries) in between layers of carbon fiber. They can then be formed to replace numerous body panels such as the decklid, roof or door panels. Volvo says that the replacing the body panels and batteries with these nano batteries can help reduce the vehicle's weight by as much as 15 percent. It has taken more than three years just to design the batteries, so there's no telling when, or if, we'll ever see this technology used on a production vehicle. Scroll down for a video and press release on Volvo's innovative battery technology.
Volvo Car Group Makes Conventional Batteries a Thing of the Past
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Volvo Car Group makes conventional batteries a thing of the past

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 fibres, 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.

The project, funded as part of a European Union research project, included Imperial College London as the academic lead partner along with eight other major participants. Volvo was the only car manufacturer in the project. The project team identified a feasible solution to the heavy weight, 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 3.5 years and is now realised in the form of car panels within a Volvo S80 experimental car.

The breakthrough
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 energised by the use of brake energy regeneration in the car or by plugging into a mains 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. These are a boot lid and a plenum cover, tested within the Volvo S80.

The boot 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 boot 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 stabilises 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

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%. This is not only cost effective but would also have improvements to the impact on the environment.

Volvo Car Group lead the way
Electrified cars play an important role in Volvo Car Group's future product portfolio and the company will continue to find and develop innovative and advanced technical solutions for the cars of tomorrow.

List of participants
Imperial College London ICL United Kingdom (project leader)
Swerea Sicomp AB, Sweden
Volvo Car Group, Sweden
Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung BAM, Germany
ETC Battery and FuelCells, Sweden
Inasco, Greece
Chalmers (Swedish Hybrid Centre), Sweden
Cytec Industries (prev UMECO/ACG), United Kingdom
Nanocyl, NCYL, Belgium

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Curtis Martin
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ohhhh..... Flexible Capacitors. I thought you said Flux Capacitors.............Great Scott! (Dejectedly, Doc Brown walks back to the barn)
      • 1 Year Ago
      China is taking over...
      • 1 Year Ago
      How about we put woolen chairs and woolen carpets in the car. That way all the static electricity from the rubbing could be stored on the driver. When you need some electricity to power accessories, etc, you just dip a wire down to the driver\'s hair. It will zap him a little, but he\'ll be happy because he knows he is saving gas every time he gets zapped!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Super capacitors don't store enough energy. Also they leak it out too rapidly (keeping it for a day would be a long time). They cannot replace batteries in these uses right now. They also store at variable voltage, you have to up the voltage to up the storage, while a 12V battery might go from 11.5V to 13.2V from empty to full, a cap will have from 0V to a hundred Volts. This makes getting the energy out harder, especially for big draws. Finally, it's really odd to hear Volvo, the company that wouldn't use HIDs for a long time because they were high voltage and can electrify (to high voltage) the body panels of your car in a wreck thinking of electrifying the body panels of your car to high voltage. In short, I don't think this is going anywhere.
      • 1 Year Ago
      "The parts are made by sandwiching super capacitors (which can charge faster than standard batteries) in between layers of carbon fiber. For people that are wigging out about using this in a "body panel" and being afraid it would be damaged easily, fine, there is an easy fix. The part in the picture is less a "body panel" than an Engine Cover. If you can make it rigid with the Carbon Fiber, you could make it a structural element in the engine bay that would give you the benefit of say a Strut Tower Brace. Being in the top of the engine bay, taking it out would be easy, and since you could contour it to the engine or the bottom of the Hood Cover it would save the space usually taken up by a battery.
      • 1 Year Ago
      That's actually pretty slick. Would love to see how this does in real world applications.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Eh doesn't seem all that practical given that batteries are consumable. Tesla solution of having a flat pack low to the ground is probably the best solution to the problem - easy plug and play and keeps the CG low.
        • 1 Year Ago
        They are not talking about electrolyte type batteries. They are talking about a capacitor battery. Capacitors technically never wear out.
          • 1 Year Ago
          You've apparently never had to replace a bad cap.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Firefighters are going to LOVE this idea! xD Everytime there is an accident, the body panels will krinkle, batteries will rupture, and they won't be able to put it out with water. Lithium tends to create an uncontrollable raging inferno, and even dry retardents don't generally get to the source. Can't wait to see what the insurance prices will be when a fender bender costs you $6000 because it requires an electrician certified to deal with ultra-high voltage systems, lol!
        • 1 Year Ago
        I was under the impression that supercapacitors are much lower risk than lithium batteries.
          • 1 Year Ago
          I was also under the impression that 12V systems weren't exactly considered ultra-high voltage.
          • 1 Year Ago
          epliepticpenguin: It's not a 12V capacitor, it surely runs at much higher voltage. You couldn't store much energy in a capacitor at 12V. The output is regulated to 12V.
        • 1 Year Ago
        Volvo is one of the car companies saying they will have completely autonomous cars by 2020 and when you combine the two technologies this idea begins to make sense. Driverless cars therotically don't crash or crash so seldom that you can begin to thick about technologies such as this. It's all a long way off but all these new technologies are heading towards a driver less & electrified automotive future.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wonder if Einstein is this guy's hero? Just look at the hair!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Volvo is so chill.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I see many potential issues with putting batteries in the body panels, but the one in the plenum isn't a bad idea since it replaces the roll bar as well...
      • 1 Year Ago
      my biggest concern here is in regards to an accident. NOT of a fire, or structure, but how will this impact firefighters on a scene with accessing the passenger compartment if the roof or structural members are batteries.
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