Volvo’s New Body Panels Are Also Batteries

Just when you thought driverless cars and automatic braking were the most mind-blowing automotive technologies out there, Volvo comes along and decides that regular body panels are just kind of passé.

As the sole automaker participating in an EU-funded research effort, Volvo has engineered a wild new battery technology that can be integrated into body panels, significantly reducing both cost and weight issues plaguing contemporary hybrid and electric vehicles.

The technology essentially sandwiches a super capacitor between layers of nanomaterial, itself composed of carbon fiber and polymer resin. The result is a material that can be easily molded and integrated in various places on the vehicle. Volvo’s new tech can charge and store energy faster and more effectively than conventional batteries, while also saving space and weight. Like other batteries, Volvo’s innovative material can be recharged by plugging it directly into a charging source or through regenerative braking.

The savvy Swedes are trying out the technology with a trunk lid and plenum cover tested on the Volvo S80. The plenum cover will also be able to replace the start-stop battery and front strut tower bar, cutting their collective weight by 50 percent.

Volvo’s press release notes the company believes “the complete substitution of an electric car’s existing components with the new material could cut the overall weight by more than 15%. This is not only cost effective but would also have improvements to the impact on the environment.” We would, however, be interested in what sort of implications this would impose on the vehicle’s crashworthiness.

If these numbers can be realized, it would represent a major step forward for Volvo into hybrid and electric technologies. Although the company is poised to break ground in the U.S. with the gasoline-powered Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid expected to follow the redesigned 2015 Volvo V60, successful application of this technology would set the brand completely apart from the green tech crowd.

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