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back to article Volvo: Need a new car battery? Replace the doors and roof

Volvo reckons it has a better place to locate an e-car’s power storage: in the vehicle’s body panels. The technique throws out traditional lithium-based batteries in favour of a carbon fibre and polymer resin sandwich. What Volvo, boffins from Imperial College and researchers from seven battery and materials companies together …

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That slight "ding" in the door

> “a very advanced nanomaterial” is embedded in the resin, which is sealed in between two layers of carbon fibre to form a “super capacitor”.

... now turns into a major cost. I don't think the local "dent removers" will be able to deal with this one.

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Unhappy

Re: That slight "ding" in the door."Ummmmmmm. It'll cost you a bit, gov."

Title says it all.

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Re: That slight "ding" in the door

I'll bet their idea of "cost effective" hasn't taken into account the effect on insurance premiums, when every carpark ding becomes a major body and electrical repair job.

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Anonymous Coward

Why not go the whole hog

Make the damn thing out of gold.

The rest of us normal folk will stick to our bargain bangers and barrels of oil.

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Joke

Re: That slight "ding" in the door."Ummmmmmm. It'll cost you a bit, gov."

...then don't let the missus drive it...

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Re: That slight "ding" in the door

I'm not so worried about the cost to repair the ding in the door so much as I'm worried about the cost of replacing the vehicle after a ding in the door shorts and starts a fire.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That slight "ding" in the door

... now turns into a major cost. I don't think the local "dent removers" will be able to deal with this one.

OTOH, this could be the start of a new self-healing material. All the energy for welding is already there...

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Childcatcher

Re: That slight "ding" in the door

And if the "ding" ruptures the cell the word would be BANG.

At lest is was the last time I got an electrical short.

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Bang the car, short the battery

It looks as if a tiny prang would bend it, short the battery and in no time at all the car will not move.

Hmmmm

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

Easy: break the battery up into cells which are insulated from each other. Damage-limitation ensues.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

I'd be worried that one damaged cell could overheat and then it cascades and CFRP is known to burn rather easily, as are most Ps I suppose. It could be that the important bits are (and they surely are) located under a nice protective layer. How thick and strong this is, who knows? But if the actual electrical cell was the surface layer that'd be.. well surely you'd then have charged body panels.. now I know you can pick your average car battery up by the terminals and not feel a thing but if you drop a spanner across them you get a bang. Could there may be safety implications, particularly at petrol stations? Or am I failing at electricity?

Intrigued as to what this wonder material is, if it somehow makes batteries which are lighter than the alternatives, i.e. better energy density, all they need to do is locate it in a sensible place.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

also wtf is a rally bar? do you mean a strut brace?

not sure how a stiff bonnet helps here though, unless it attaches rigidly both ends (a typical bonnet catch won't work here) plus stiff bonnets have crash safety implications maybe? I think they have to deform x amount for pedestrian safety, or at least there has to be a certain clearance to any properly hard bits.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

"I'd be worried that one damaged cell could overheat and then it cascades and CFRP is known to burn rather easily,..."

To judge by what I see on the roads, most existing cars burn rather well, and require only modest provocation to do so. However, we have generally managed to an adequate standard the risks associated with the use of petrol, so I'd suggest that the fire risks of super capacitor panels would be easily managed. The use of lithium batteries looks to be much more troubling, both from the likelihood of fire starting, and from its intensity and difficulty of extinguishing it.

Also worth bearing in mind that composite aircraft have lightening resistant CF panels, so several aspects of the problem have probably already been solved.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bang the car, short the battery

On the bright side, the next time some little turd tries to key your car they'll get quite a surprise.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bang the car, short the battery

This is an interesting discussion for me. From when I left school in 77 until around 1990 I was working in Labs for a large aeroengine maker and spent a lot of this time in the non-metalic materials lab. At this time we were looking at the use of composites for structures like cowlings and cold stream thrust reversers on big turbofan engines. One of the issues was dealing with lightning strikes. An aircraft will get struck by lightning quite often in it's life and the way to deal with this is to let the electrical bolt conduct across the skin of the aircraft and off down to earth. This effectively allows the lightning to pass around the aircraft and not effect the inside components (or occupants!) of the aircraft. Obviously this was not going to happen with "plastic" planels on big chunks of the aircraft...

To deal with this we looked at putting conductive pathways into the composite parts, Ally foil, conductive paint, metal mesh - nothing actually structural but something to give a conductive pathway through the composite. We also looked at the potential for the carbon fibre to conduct the electricity sufficiently on it's own - punched some nice holes in carbon panels doing this one!

As is usually the case in these things a combination of methods were adopted to ensure "belt and braces" protection.

A more worrying problem was what happened with impacts on the components and how did we fix these. By impact I don't mean a crash but just the possibility of a panel being hit by a tool or some surface vehicle during maintenance, probably more pertinant to this discusson of car parts really. One of the things we found was that even a small impact could cause critical damage that may not even be visible, delamination of the carbon skin and consequent loss of structural strength. We did much work on this to determine the extent of such delamination with relation to the type of impact and how to fix it. I remember a day cutting out a section of a cowl door that we had dropped a hammer on to for a test to see how extensive the delamination was ( I had to pot sections of it and polish them so we could see the delam under a microscope, I took the photos as well). If you think this was worrying thing about what BAC (BAe) were dealing with. They were developing carbon wings for the new ( at the time ) Harrier GR5 and they were shooting bullets at their panels! (and making quite a mess).

These things were all resolved in time so the knowledge does exist and given that Volvo has had conections to the aerospace industry I'm sure they are aware of these.

AC because some people may still not like these things to be discussed outside the factory (though it shouldn't be hard to figure me out if any of them were reading this).

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

Yeah, you have a crash and there gonna be a fucking great FLASH!

Maybe even cause a fire

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Alien

Re: Damage-limitation ensues.

Quite so and have the on-board computer manage the flow of electricity.

"Captain, that was a direct hit on our starboard capacitor, we're down to 75%. I've compensated but we canna take another hit like that."

"Switch all power to front capacitors. Scotty, I need that fuel cell back on line in 5 minutes or we'll be on the hard shoulder."

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

@Dave 62

"Intrigued as to what this wonder material is, if it somehow makes batteries which are lighter than the alternatives, i.e. better energy density, all they need to do is locate it in a sensible place."

It's not really a wonder material at all -- it's just a slightly better implementation of known technology.

Capacitors have always been better than batteries in terms of charging time, storage efficiency and even energy density, but the big problem is that while chemical cells rely storage capacity is determined by volume, capacitors function on the surface area of two conductive plates facing each other. 3D volumes are optimised by approximating cubes, which gives nice manageable units that fit into cars. But a high-capacity capacitor is easiest to make in a big long slice, which isn't too handy under the bonnet. The bodywork is already made of big long slices, so it fits in efficiently. Just a shame about the potential for damage in any sort of collision.

Others are researching using crystals to "grow" the plates into interlocking 3D structures, increasing the surface area with a 3D space rather than a 2D plane. That would revolutionise not only electric vehicle technology, but also UPS systems on all sorts of scales. It would even shrink a lot of electricity substations, as capacitors are used to smoothe out fluctuations in the supply to prevent electrical damage in both the substation and the home.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

What about roof removal during an accident?

It can be tricky enough for the emergency services, when trying to cut through door pillars, to avoid setting off air bags and getting a flash from cutting cables that power sunroofs without having to cut through the the connections for the car's main power.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

"On the bright side, the next time some little turd tries to key your car they'll get quite a surprise."

Alas, the might of the Human Rights industry will very quickly bring to court attempted manslaughter charges against the owner of the first car which delivery said surprise.

You see, in our Brave New World, it's up to the victims to ensure that vandals, robbers, attackers and so on are not inadvertently injured while attempting their crimes.

It really suprises me that we're still allowed to make windows out of glass. Glass shatters into dangerous shards which can easily wound someone who is trying to gain entry into your house.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

"On the bright side, the next time some little turd tries to key your car they'll get quite a surprise."

Can we call it 'Magna Volt?'

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Re: Maybe even cause a fire

I was thinking along the same lines: Cool idea, but what about accident implications? Could this be the new Ford Pinto?

As to the fire, those are usually visible. What if the accident shorts the capacitor so the whole car is now charged? That's not exactly visible.

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Happy

Re: Bang the car, short the battery

"Glass shatters into dangerous shards which can easily wound someone" That was indeed true, but a long time ago. Then there was a guy who dropped a bottle containing dried glue and now things are different.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

They'r eonly different on the front window unless you have a seriously expensive motor.

Try a sharpened centrepunch on a side window to see what I mean.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

At least this doesn't sound as dangerous as a proposal I once saw to transport us around using a system relying on highly volatile fuel, explosions, HT voltages and water.

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Re: Bang the car, short the battery

Don't they still make electrolytic capacitors by taking one long sheet of conductive foil, coating it with electrolyte, put another sheet of conductive foil on top of it, adding an insulator coating, and then rolling the whole thing up?

They fit just as well under the hood as they do on computers motherboards and inside audio amps.

I do like the idea of a 3-D structure for the plates. I can see how that would help.

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Re: Maybe even cause a fire

Not just the capacitor catching fire, but perhaps the spark igniting gasoline or propane from the other vehicle.

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Facts and figures?

What is the energy storage density per kilogram and per litre compared to LIon batteries and what is the likely cost comparison? I can't imagine that this would be cheaper than making an equivalent increase in the volume of an existing battery design.

Also, if it's that good, why not replace the entire battery with a lump made form this 'super capacitor' material? I wonder what it's stored energy loss rate is.......... etc.

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Re: Facts and figures?

"Also, if it's that good, why not replace the entire battery with a lump made form this 'super capacitor' material? ."

Because if you can make panels you already need for structural and aerodynamic reasons into power storage, then you don't need a separate battery, reducing the overall component count, assembly complexity, and total weight. You may also have other disadvantages of assembling as a single "battery", such as heat losses in charging and discharge that aren't a problem with a large surface area. Indeed, if your energy is more widely distributed, then any point failures would not be as exciting as a point failure on a single energy storage brick.

If you think about how (for all the challenges) the 787 is revolutionary for aviation in terms of construction and performance, through the use of CF and different approaches to electrical systems, and consider how that might change car making. Does it really make sense to make car bodies out of metal at all, with the all the necessary rolling, bending, punching, welding, corrosion protection? And if you're asking such fundamental questions then you'd question why you have so many different components, which can be eliminted, integrated into other parts, or made differently through smart tech. Could you ultimately 3D print a car body? I'd have though so, and a better, lighter car than we currently make with steel origami. Could you print the car round the drive train, or pre-assembled interior? Maybe. Could the panels combine solar charging with energy storage? Certainly, though it wouldn't help us much here in the UK.

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Re: Facts and figures?

Composites instead of steel would really be great, ultimately it comes down to cost. You can bet your bottom dollar that if a car made with composites rather than steel would be cheaper to make, we'd already be seeing them in mass-production. So it's a fair bit into the future. 3D printing, even more because current state-of-the-art 3D printouts have the structural integrity of a chocolate teapot.

The general idea here is great though. It's easy to imagine this in an e-car combined with solar panels to keep charge topped up, in-wheel electric motors to free up space in the 'engine' compartment, less Li batteries required giving a lighter car (meaning in turn less power requirement and longer range on the same battery). It would still probably cost a fair bit more than a combustion-engine 'normal' car, but start to get comparable range, and 'sensible' charge times comparable to a 5-minute fill-up at the petrol station.

As many fellow commentards* point out above, the main problem will be damage vulnerability, but hopefully that will start going away as we shift to auto-drive cars that collide a lot less than their meatbag-driven counterparts.

*lovingly, of course

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Re: Facts and figures?

A big problem with capacitors is the relatively high self-discharge rate.

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Re: Facts and figures?

"You can bet your bottom dollar that if a car made with composites rather than steel would be cheaper to make, we'd already be seeing them in mass-production."

Not the case at all. You've got many bright ideas yet to see the light of day, because (for example) of the need to recover existing investments, because of concerns about market acceptance, over and above those ideas that nobody's thought to try yet.

To continue the aviation analogies, if sense had anything to do with it, flying wing configurations would be the norm for airline transport, but there's never been much market acceptance by customers of anything radical in aviation (perhaps for obvious reasons)

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How is carbon fiber at being recycled?

Metal is easily recycled. How is carbon fiber at being recycled?

Anyone know?

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I'd like answers to many of the questions that others have posted, but still, Volvo aren't stupid. They won't commercialise if it isn't viable.

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@Richard 81 - agreed - I will trust the nice people of Gothenburg to get this right - they usually do as long as they don't get interfered with by utomstående - and so far the people from Zhejiang have been friendly Uncles. Long may it continue.

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Anonymous Coward

Amusing way to crush a car at the end of its life

Just connect the battery to a high enough voltage and watch the car implode due to positive and negative electrodes getting more highly attracted to each other so all the panel batteries fold in on themselves like an airbed attached to a powerful vacuum pump.

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Why not go F1 style

Seeing as the bonnet and boot are so vunerable to damage why not copy the F1 builders and make the chassis and floor pan out of the stuff instead. The roof is also a good alternative, especially if you add a layer of solar cells to it. The car could be constantly charging itself all day long.

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Re: Why not go F1 style

"The car could be constantly charging itself all day long."

Looking out of the window just now, I'm not entirely sure that this would work all that well in the UK.

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Re: Why not go F1 style

I think its probably because the boot and bonnet would be easier to replace .... and also check for damage. A low speed impact could cause fractures that would not be picked up in even a detailed check. I doubt you would want a chassis issue making itself known at 70mph on the motorway as it tends to shatter more than snap.

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Re: Why not go F1 style

As well as being easier to replace, it will probably be easier to automate the manufacture of separate, flatish, components.

The big problem with carbon monocoque chassis, like F1, is the F1 price tag because a lot of it has to be done by hand. Putting sheet metal through automated hydraulic press lines and then into robot welding requires virtually no people at all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why not go F1 style

"Looking out of the window just now, I'm not entirely sure that this would work all that well in the UK."

Volvo will come up with UK specified cars - add in a wind turbine and a water turbine and Sven's our uncle

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Re: Why not go F1 style

Maybe a UK model could have a small hydroelectric dam and reservoir on the roof instead?

It would only need to hold enough water to last between rain showers and you could always keep a 20L container of water in the boot for emergencies.

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When Volvo announced their Diesel plug-in Hybrid I immediately saw the potential. Driving from and to work on the electric only makes financial sense – even more so if you are able to charge it while at work. When going touring at the weekend you have a 200bhp front wheel drive diesel engine, and can even boost it with an extra 80bhp push through the rear electric wheels.

I’m not so sure on this one though.

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Maybe what's needed is

Some kind of liquid battery or energy source. It could be stored in a container under the car bodywork. Energy could be extracted by releasing heat and kinetic energy via oxidation. When the energy source is exhausted, the container could be topped up with more liquid from a hose connected to a pump at the charging station.

I wonder if there's any prior art for this?

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Re: Maybe what's needed is

It'd never get past Health & Safety... (a point made, if I recall correctly, by May et al a while back...)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Maybe what's needed is

I often wonder what it would have been like to read the comments section on things like the modern car battery, back when they were first put in to the motor vehicle. I'll not mention the lead in batteries aspect as I'm not sure the full effects of lead would have been known. But could you imagine the furore of the idea of going from steam to petroleum :o

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Re: Maybe what's needed is

My vehicles already seem to be equipped with such a device. It's called a fuel tankk. Depending on the vehicle, I fill them with petrol or diesel. It's quick, clean and convenient, and I can get the fuel almost everywhere. Dents and dings hardly seem to bother them.

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Re: Maybe what's needed is

"It's called a fuel tankk. "

I think a whooosshh picture is called for

As someone posted on here a few days back, don't tell some past owners of the Pinto that fuel tank can take dings - quite a few turned into fireballs.

The reason a modern car is so rarely burtsing into flames is because of 'elf & Sfatey mate rules generated in the US and here. Design and position of the fuel tank is what keeps them safe.

Also petrol was a distant third in early car design - electrics and steam were miles ahead. Now only if we had picked steam - max torque at stall, complete and controlled combustion, almost any fuel .....

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Re: Maybe what's needed is

Once you decouple fuel from drivetrain, you could easily make a stirling-based hybrid.

All the work's going into IC engined hybrids because that's where all the work has gone in the past. It wouldn't be particularly hard to make a IC/stirling cogen setup either.

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