Let’s face it. Fully-electric cars will come into the mainstream eventually. While it’s not entirely practical on a mass scale yet, electric cars are more efficient, and the energy can come from many sources instead of petroleum-based products. The latter of which is crucial to our energy independence. Aside from the issue of a lack of infrastructure, the biggest problem with electric cars is the size, weight, and placement of the battery. Tesla has arrived at a pretty good solution for placement, but the 85kWh battery in the Model S weighs approximately 1300 lbs.
Volvo, along with Imperial College London, and 7 other organizations have been conducting research over the last 3.5 years for a solution to the problem of automotive battery size, weight and placement; To not only provide batteries with greater performance and capacity, but also to package them in a way which is unobtrusive to the overall packaging of the vehicle and make more efficient use of space. They have done this by integrating batteries into carbon fiber body panels. They have replaced the trunk lid of an S80 with their new carbon fiber trunk lid, and has the potential to replace the car battery you’d normally find under the hood. They have also created a new front windshield cowl which not only contains batteries, but it also a structural element which is lighter and stiffer than the one it replaces.
While these findings are seemingly incremental, they represent the potential for a paradigm shift in the way manufacturers design and build cars, and the way we use them.
Let us know what you think!!
From the 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 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 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
Volvo Car Group lead the wayt
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
Chalmers (Swedish Hybrid Centre), Sweden
Cytec Industries (prev UMECO/ACG), United Kingdom
Nanocyl, NCYL, Belgium