Volvo, long synonymous with safety in the minds of the driving public, is throwing its weight behind developing a special composite material that doubles as vehicle body panels and batteries.
Earlier this year, Volvo and nine other European corporations and institutes tasked themselves with developing a special composite material consisting of carbon fiber and polymer resin. This material is capable of storing and discharging great amounts of electrical energy and is supposed to recharge faster than the conventional vehicle batteries used today. When used to create body panels, the new carbon-fiber composite structures essentially serve as a hybrid or EV's battery stack, which also redistributes the vehicle's weight. Initial testing found the new, electrifying material could reduce a vehicle's weight as much as 15 percent versus the use of steel body panels.
"Our role is to contribute expertise on how this technology can be integrated in the future and to input ideas about the advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and user-friendliness," says Per-Ivar Sellergren, Volvo Cars Materials Center development engineer.
The first test phases concentrated on molding hoods, roofs, and door panels. During the driving process, the composite material is recharged like the hybrids and EVs of today through regenerative braking and tapping the electrical utilities grid. A composite hood, roof, and a full set of door panels on a normal sedan are expected to hold enough charge for 81 miles of electric driving. The range isn't phenomenal for the time being, but the project is on a three-year time frame and we can expect further developments as the engineers hunker down. The composite material is being adapted to the spare-wheel holder and, while there were few notes on the issue of safety, you can bet crash-worthy panels are a good concern as the carbon-fiber blend is still a ways away from a commercial release.
"This is a relatively large structure that is easy to replace," remarked Sellergren on the spare-wheel holder. "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."
The other partners in this project include the Imperial College London, Advanced Composites Group, Bundesanstalt Fur Material forschung undprufung, Chalmers, ETC Battery, Fuel Cells Sweden, INASCO Hella, Nanocyl, and Swerea SICOMP. The European Union jump-started the endeavor with 35 million Swedish krona ($5.2 million).