Electric vehicles have been around nearly as long as the automobile itself, and while the electric motor has certainly been perfected over the last century, the underlying battery technology used to power an EV still tends to relegate the genre to niche status.
But tomorrow’s EVs could eliminate big and bulky – not to mention costly – battery packs altogether, instead using their body panels as a source of power. Volvo has been working on the concept over the past three and a half years in conjunction with other participants as part of a European Union research project headed by London’s Imperial College.
Here, advanced nano-structured batteries and super capacitors are deftly incorporated into carbon fiber panels using an advanced resin; the panels are, in turn, formed to fit around a car’s frame. Just as with a conventional EV battery, the super capacitor-infused material can be fully charged via the power grid or refreshed while en route via regenerative braking.
Volvo says the electrified material charges faster than conventional batteries, and is strong and pliant enough to be fully integrated within a vehicle’s structure. It’s said to not only be lighter in weight than today’s batteries, but lighter than conventional structural materials as well; it’s also clamed to be both cost effective and eco-friendly to produce.
Volvo has reportedly developed an experimental S80 sedan that utilizes the technology to form the car’s trunk lid and plenum cover in the vehicle’s engine compartment. Leveraged more extensively, say additionally on a car’s roof, hood and doors, Volvo expects the material would realize a 15 percent weight reduction and power a midsize car for around 80 miles on a charge.
What’s more, use of the energy-storing panels doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to EVs. In a conventionally powered car the energy storing material can be used to both form the so-called “rally bar” (a strong structural component at the front of a car) and replace the standard 12-volt battery as a weight saving measure.
Now we’ve been around the proverbial block enough times to know that many such breakthroughs which show great promise never make it outside the laboratory for a variety of reasons, including cost and, we would have to wonder here, potential crashworthiness problems. There’s also the issue of recycling damaged or salvaged body parts to consider. However, if Volvo’s on the money with its “super capacitor” body panel technology, it could ultimately be a game changer, particularly if in fact proves to be a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to the comparatively massive power cells used to power today’s EVs.
Follow us on Forbes.com, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.