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Volvo develops new energy storage technology

Thu, 17 Oct 2013

Volvo is looking to make heavy batteries in electric vehicles a thing of the past, unveiling a new technology still under development that could use the body panels of the vehicle to store energy.

Everyone knows that right now one of the biggest technological limiting factors of electric vehicles are the batteries. They can be damaged through depletion, they add weight, they use expensive and polluting technologies to manufacture, and they just don't hold as much energy as we'd like. And some of the improvements in EV ranges over the last few years have come about not as a result of new battery technologies, but rather automakers tweaking the aerodynamic and weight efficiency of their cars, using low rolling resistance tires and shedding weight.

Replacing all body panels with new material would shave 15 percent off vehicle weight.

Volvo is hoping to change that, and as part of a three and half year European Union-funded project has developed a material composed of carbon fibers, nano-structured batteries, and super capacitors, creating a sandwich of materials that can take on the shape of body panels of a car. The skin of the vehicle would essentially act as one large thin, lightweight battery. An S80 test vehicle has received a trunklid and a plenum cover made of this material. The trunklid itself has ended up being lighter than the standard metal trunklid on the Volvo S80, and by itself could replace the battery found in the car. The plenum made out of this new material is also powerful enough to supply energy to the car's 12-volt system, according to Volvo.

Volvo believes that replacing all body panels with this new energy storage material could cut vehicle weight by a total of 15 percent. No word yet on when we'll see the first commercial use of this material in EVs or internal combustion engine-powered cars, but this is certainly an important stepping stone in the development of EV battery technology.

By Jay Ramey