Volvo Looks Into Car Body As Battery

It sounded like fantasy, the story that British researchers had developed a material that could be used to store energy in the bodies of hybrid or electric vehicles. But Volvo is apparently pretty serious about the possibility, which would theoretically allow for savings in weight and volume by reducing or even one day eliminating bulky batteries.

The Swedish car manufacturer, noting that it’s the only car manufacturer involved in the research, said in a press release that it believes the technology in development at Imperial College in London could trim a car’s weight by 15 percent.

image via Volvo

Actually using the material on a car is the last step planned in the three-year project now unfolding. At that time, according to Volvo’s Per-Ivar Sellergren, engineers will focus on converting the spare wheel recess into a composite battery. “This is a relatively large structure that is easy to replace,” Sellergren said. “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 composite material consists of carbon fibers and a polymer resin, enabling the material itself to store and discharge large quantities of energy at a faster rate than conventional batteries. Work is continuing on increasing the storage capacity of the material. Volvo said researchers also need to figure out ways to produce the material on an industrial scale before it could be used in cars.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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