Battery technology has given a huge volt to the automobile industry. More models offer a “hybrid” option, and plug-in hybrids have created a buzz, whether it is over the Volt or Leaf. But those batteries pose their challenges: they require rare metals that are costly to extract, are expensive, and are heavy.
Volvo is currently in the middle of a US$4.8 million research project to test whether there is a better way to design a car battery. Working with London’s Imperial College and several European companies, the project “Tomorrow’s Volvo Car” could lead to an even more energy efficient automobile, revolutionize battery technology, and reduce a car’s weight as well.
The trick is a composite blend of carbon fibers and a polymer resin that could be shaped into a car’s panels. This development is behind the first stage of the project. Imperial’s researchers think they can develop a casing that would not only lighter than conventional materials that go into an automobile’s frame, but even eliminate those bulky batteries. Whether power generates from braking or electric recharging, Volvo and Imperial envision parts of the car including the roof, doors, or hood thanks to advances in nanotechnology. For now engineers are focused on figuring out how to transform cars’ spare wheel recess into a battery.
The project has another three years, and other benefits could result if this technology proves successful. The composite could store and discharge energy quicker than what is possible with current battery technology. The material also would not use any chemical processes, adding another reason for a quicker discharge time while causing little degradation. Batteries now used in hybrid cars—or for other products–eventually degrade and must be replaced.
Other possibilities for this technology could transfer to other products. Cellular phones could be wafer thin, the result of the elimination of the traditional rechargeable battery. Laptop computers could be lighter as well if they could draw power from their frame or casing instead of a bulky battery.
Whether all this is possible will be clear in the latter stages of the project. Even if the technology does not prove cost-effective for automobiles, the chance that it could revolutionize electronics would be quite an achievement as well.
For Volvo, this is another example of how the company is exploring alternative fuels, such as its investment in bio-DME for its trucks in Sweden.
A video of the project with even more details is here.