As engineers look to expand the range that electric vehicles can travel, the problem they face is how to improve energy storage capacity without adding extra weight. The heavier the car is, the less distance it will travel on a single charge.
One solution, of course, is new types of batteries. Tesla, for example, is working on a metal air battery technology that one day could vastly improve on today’s lithium-ion designs. But that might not be the only way to get a better range for the same weight.
In Europe, several groups are looking at storing energy in a car’s body. Volvo has adapted one of its S80 vehicles so that the trunk lid and engine plenum act as super-capacitors. The components are made with carbon fiber infused with a special conductive resin. Volvo says if more of the car was fashioned this way–maybe the door panels and the roof as well–it could reduce overall weight by 15%.
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Volvo says the electrified material charges faster than conventional batteries, and is strong and pliant enough to be fully integrated within a vehicle’s structure. It’s said to not only be lighter in weight than today’s batteries, but lighter than conventional structural materials as well; it’s also claimed to be both cost effective and eco-friendly to produce.
Imperial College London is also part of the European Union-funded project. If successful, it won’t allay the need for better batteries. But it might make the road to fully competitive EVs a little smoother.