Volvo has a reputation for building tanks that masquerade as cars. It generally takes emissions standards or a wrecking ball to get a Volvo off the road for good, they’re that reliable. And Volvo seems out to improve that reputation by changing the way electric cars work.
The Problem With Batteries
Here’s the big problem with electric cars: Batteries. Batteries are basically enormous chunks of lead you have to stick in the front of your car, which is why almost every electric car looks like Steve Urkel engineered it. This creates huge problems with handling, obviously, and it also helps to keep down the range of EVs, because they have to haul half a ton of lead around in addition to your groceries.
But what if they didn’t? That’s what Volvo has done.
Body Panels That Power The Car
Volvo, working with academics, tried a different idea; body panels made of carbon fiber with nano-batteries and supercapacitors distributed throughout the panel. The benefits are enormous; Carbon fiber is stronger than steel and absurdly light compared to lead, and carbon fiber also makes a great conductor. Instead of the weight upfront, the battery weight can be easily distributed. And with far less weight to haul around, even current EVs would see an enormous boost in range. It even takes a charge faster.
And it works, which is the best part: Volvo replaced a trunk lid and a plenum cross member in an S80 and it ran just like a normal EV.
There Are Some Problems
There are two problems, however. The first is pretty simple; having a battery on the outside of your car is potentially a safety hazard, and Volvo is still testing how to ensure that isn’t a risk. Secondly, carbon fiber is not exactly cheap. But it does mean that the problem of massive batteries in EVs will be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.