Electric vehicle batteries are big, heavy, and expensive. Volvo hopes to tackle all three problem with one creative solution: body panels that double as car batteries.
The vehicle manufacturer is working with the Imperial College in London on a materials development project that may ultimately turn entire vehicles into ultra-light batteries. As part of the project, Volvo and Imperial college built a composite blend of carbon fibers (much like what is found in fishing rods and tennis rackets) and polymer resin that is supposedly strong, flexible, and light enough to be used in body panels. According to Volvo, the new material could slash the weight of EVs by up to 15%. Volvo's carbon fiber can also charge up faster than traditional EV batteries.
Eager EV drivers shouldn't get too excited yet--the material development project is still in the beginning stages, and Volvo and Imperial College are still figuring out how to mass produce the carbon fiber blend. But within the next three years, Volvo will attempt to convert a vehicle's spare wheel recess into a composite battery. In a statement, Volvo researcher Per-Ivar Sellergren explained, "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." In the next 10 years, Volvo might start commercially producing the material in everything from vehicle roofs to dashboards.
It's a clever idea, but we have one major concern: Volvo claims that the composite material is strong and crash-resistant, but what happens if a nasty accident severely scratches up a battery-containing body panel? Will it drastically increase the cost of repairs? We're curious to see if Volvo can resolve safety issues well enough to make this work.