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Volvo turns body panels into batteries

Volvo has announced a tech breakthrough that could make electric cars lighter, more eco-friendly and more spacious.

The Swedish car manufacturer has developed a technology that allows car components such as the boot lid and door panels to store energy, reducing the need for bulky lithium-ion battery packs, cutting vehicle weight by more than 15 per cent in the process.

Volvo has achieved this by creating a special ‘nanomaterial’ comprised of carbon fibre and a polymer material. Said material, which can be moulded into just about any shape, houses super capacitors that are designed to harvest energy accumulated either from wall-socket charging or regenerative braking (a way of turning braking power into electrical energy).

Volvo claims just about any part of a car can be used for energy storage. What’s more, it also reckons an energy-storing body panel is much lighter than the component it replaces, while staying “strong and pliant”.

The breakthrough is the result of an EU-funded research project which involves nine organisations including Volvo. The project has been running for three and a half years.

Two components are currently being tested on a prototype Volvo S80; a boot lid and a plenum cover. Between them, they produce enough energy to replace the standard battery, the stop/start battery and to run the car’s 12-volt electrical system. 

By substituting all the existing components of an electric car, Volvo believes a weight saving of more than 15 per cent is achievable. It’s not clear what the cost implications would be, but we don’t expect it’ll come cheap. 

Although Volvo could be the first manufacturer to deploy the technology on a production car, turning body panels into batteries is actually not a new concept. Drayson Racing, for instance, uses structural batteries in its electric prototype Lola B12 69/EV race car.

As with any new development, it will be a long time before you can buy an electric Volvo with battery body panels. But it does seem like the car battery and battery cells will go the way of the dodo sooner than we thought.

Check out the video below.

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