By imagining the entire body of the car as one giant battery, designers of Sweden's safest car may have found a way to make EVs lighter and more powerful.
Batteries for electric cars are bulky and heavy. Adding batteries in to extend the EV's range, only makes the car heavier, which just requires more power to go the same distance as before.
In the interests of creating more power with less weight, engineers at Volvo have been working with scientists at Imperial College in London to develop a composite blend of carbon fibers and polymer resin that can store and charge more energy faster than conventional batteries can.
If successful, this light-weight composite could then be used to form the car's body panels while also functioning as a battery, storing and releasing energy.
The planned material could be produced without any chemical processes, which would make recharge times much faster than conventional batteries. With no chemical reaction necessary, this recharging process causes little degradation in the composite material over time, meaning the "whole car battery" would last much longer than traditional cells.
"The future applications for this material don’t stop there – you might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging," said project coordinator, Dr Emile Greenhalgh. "We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.” (Imperial College).
Although the concept is still in its earliest stages of development, scientists imagine that the composite will replace the metal flooring in the recessed compartment of the car's trunk, called the wheel well, which holds the spare wheel.
By replacing the now metal wheel well with a composite one, Volvo could be able to reduce the number of batteries needed to power an electric motor. They believe this could lead to a 15 percent reduction in the car's overall weight, which should significantly improve the range of future hybrid cars.
Like a normal battery, the future Volvo hybrids will still be charged by plugging into household power supply or EV charging station. The researchers are also exploring other alternatives for charging it such as recycling energy created when a car brakes.
No word yet on how replacing steel body parts with composite components might affect the legendary safety of Volvo vehicles.