Research in the new material is being headed by Imperial College London and includes a number of partners, one of which is Volvo, the only automaker. After more than three years of development, the researchers have now built a Volvo S80 prototype featuring the panels. The material has been used for the trunk lid and the plenum cover (located in the engine bay).
The breakthrough was creating the nano structured batteries and super capacitors, and then researchers found a way to sandwich the energy storage systems in the carbon fiber, which is pre-formed to fit the car, such as the door panels, trunk lid and wheel arches.
Like conventional batteries and super capacitors in electric cars, the special panels can be recharged and energized by brake energy regeneration or by plugging into a mains electrical grid. The panels can then transfer the energy to an electric motor spinning the wheels.
Impressively, researchers found that the special panels not only charge and store energy faster than conventional batteries can, but that they are also lighter, stronger and more pliant. Their production is also said to be cost effective eco-friendly.
The best part is that conventional internal combustion cars can also benefit. The new plenum made out of the material is stiff enough to replace the rally bar, a strong structural piece that stabilizes the car in the front, and it holds enough energy that it can replace the small battery located in all cars, helping to save weight. The researchers say it’s powerful enough to start the engine and power a car’s 12-Volt system.
For a full, battery-powered electric car, it is believed the complete substitution of the car’s battery with the new material could cut overall weight by more than 15 percent. With the materials used on the doors, roof and hood, estimated range for a mid-size electric car is around 80 miles.
An early version of the technology, as shown by the Imperial College London, can be seen in the video from 2010 below.