For decades, electric vehicle (EV) proponents have been waiting for a breakthrough in battery technology that would make EVs competitive with their fossil-fuelled counterparts.
Battery size, weight, cost, recharge time and energy storage capacity (which translates to driving range) have all been constraints that limit the widespread acceptance and adoption of EVs.
Now Volvo, working as part of a project team, claims to have developed a revolutionary battery concept that addresses at least some of those constraints.
It comprises a system of lightweight structural energy storage components that could improve the energy usage of future electrified vehicles, the company says.
The project team, of which Volvo was the only automaker member, is said to have identified a feasible solution to the heavy weight, large size and high costs associated with the batteries seen in hybrids and electric cars today.
The project, funded as part of a European Union research project, included Imperial College London as the academic lead partner along with eight other major participants, all listed below.
The research project took place over 3.5 years and has now been realized in the form of vehicle panels applied on a Volvo S80 experimental car.
The breakthrough is based on a combination of carbon fibres and a polymer resin, creating a very advanced nanomaterial, along with structural super capacitors.
The reinforced carbon fibres sandwich the new battery and are moulded and formed to fit around the car’s structure, such as in the door panels, the deck lid and wheel housings, substantially saving on space.
The carbon fibre laminate is first layered, shaped and then cured in an oven to set and harden. The super capacitors are integrated within the component skin. This material can then be used around the vehicle, replacing existing components, to store and discharge energy.
The material is recharged and energized by the use of brake energy regeneration in the car or by plugging into an electrical grid. It then transfers the energy to the electric motor which is discharged as it is used around the car.
This new material is said to charge and store energy faster than conventional batteries can, as well as being strong and pliant.
The deck lid is a functioning electrically powered storage component and has the potential to replace the standard batteries seen in today’s cars. It is lighter than a standard deck lid, saving on both volume and weight.
The new plenum demonstrates that it can also replace both the structural bar that stabilizes the car in the front, and the start-stop battery. In addition to saving more than 50% in component weight, it is powerful enough to supply energy to the car’s 12 Volt system
It is believed that the complete substitution of an electric car’s existing components with the new material could cut the overall weight by more than 15%, Volvo says. Doing so would not only be cost effective but would also have a positive impact on the environment.
This breakthrough battery development is still in an experimental phase and no plans for a production application have been released.
The participants in the research project include:
1. Imperial College London ICL United Kingdom (project leader)
2. Swerea Sicomp AB, Sweden
3. Volvo Car Group, Sweden
4. Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung BAM, Germany
5. ETC Battery and FuelCells, Sweden
6. Inasco, Greece
7. Chalmers (Swedish Hybrid Centre), Sweden
8. Cytec Industries (prev UMECO/ACG), United Kingdom
9. Nanocyl, NCYL, Belgium