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A Car Body That's a Battery? Volvo Is Exploring a Car of the Future

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author photo by Autotrader October 2010

Volvo has always thought way ahead of the curve. After all, this is the company that introduced the first production three-point seat belt in 1959 and has since led the auto industry in safety innovations. Currently, Volvo is exploring sustainability with an idea that could change the way battery-driven cars are produced.            

This car of the future doesn’t have a battery, or, at least not in the traditional “black box under the front hood” since of the word.  Instead, the entire body of the car functions as one giant rechargeable battery, which also uses regenerative braking to store energy.

A reality? Not yet. However, Volvo is one of nine participants in an international materials development project that is working on the battery of the future. Launched earlier this year by Imperial College in London, Volvo is notably the only car manufacturer among the European companies involved.

Operating on a grant of around 3.5 million Euro ($4.7 million) from the European Union (EU), the three year project aims to develop a composite blend of carbon fibers and polymer resin that can store and charge more energy at a faster rate than present batteries can.

The material is also tremendously strong and pliant –- perfect for building a car’s body panels. A car’s weight could be cut by as much as 15 percent if steel body panels were replaced with the new composite.

That’s promising news for the alternative vehicle industry. Hybrid and electric cars have been plagued with the obstacle of working around the size, weight and cost of the current generation of batteries. 

The team's first goal is to convert a car’s spare wheel recess into a composite battery.

“The recess is a relatively large structure that is easy to replace. It is not sufficiently large enough to power the entire car, but it is large enough to switch the engine off and on when the car is at a standstill, for instance at traffic lights,” says Per-Ivar Sellergren, development engineer at the Volvo Cars Materials Centre.

“Our role is to contribute expertise on how this technology can be integrated in the future and to input ideas about the advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and user-friendliness,” he adds.

The car battery is just the first possibility for the project, though.  If it’s successful, there are limitless opportunities for the technology industry, ranging everywhere from cell phones as thin as credit cards to laptop batteries that last for days.

For now, it’s a stab at the future. As Daniel Johnston, Product Communications for Volvo Cars of North America, told AutoTrader, “The point is to think creatively, to look for, in a sense, science fiction solutions for making more with less and create sustainability.”

For more info visit the Imperial College website or watch the video.

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A Car Body That's a Battery? Volvo Is Exploring a Car of the Future - Autotrader