Volvo to replace body parts with energized carbon fiber panels


October 18, 2013

Carbon fiber composite panels infused with nano-batteries and super capacitors could replace a vehicle's 12 V battery

Carbon fiber composite panels infused with nano-batteries and super capacitors could replace a vehicle's 12 V battery

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For automobile manufacturers, the electric elephant in the room continues to be bulky and weighty battery packs. This week, Volvo unveiled an innovative potential solution to the problem that it has been working on for the past three and a half years with other European partners; replace steel body panels with carbon fiber composite panels infused with nano-batteries and super capacitors.

The conductive material used around the vehicle to charge and store energy can be recharged via the vehicle’s regenerative braking system or via the grid. When the system and motor requires a charge, the energized panels behave like any traditional battery pack and discharge accordingly. According to Volvo, the material charges and stores faster than a typical system.

Using a Volvo S80 as a test platform, the team replaced the vehicle’s trunk lid and plenum cross member over the engine bay with the new material. Volvo claims the composite trunk lid, which is stronger than the outgoing steel component, could not only power the vehicle's 12 volt system but the weight savings alone could increase an EV's overall range and performance as a result.

Under the hood, Volvo wanted to show that the plenum replacement bar is not only capable of replacing a 12 volt system but is also 50 percent lighter than the standard steel cross-member and torsionally stronger. The very much revolutionary concept, chock full of cost and engineering challenges, presents an interesting solution that could not only reduce overall weight but increase charge capacity relative to a vehicle’s surface area.

When it comes to weight savings, the battery pack in Tesla’s Model S for example, not only adds significant cost but also brings with it over 1,000 lb (453 kg), making the electric argument a difficult one for many. With Volvo’s concept, that huge chunk of weight would not only be lighter under this scenario, but would be spread out evenly over a vehicle’s body. In theory, vehicle handling and performance characteristics would thus improve as a result of this revised displacement idea.

But the idea of using body panels as battery packs does come with its share of particular concerns. Lamborghini, McLaren and Pagani charge a hyper-premium for their exotics as a result of extensive carbon fiber use, so for this idea to become reality and make it to mass production would require a significant reduction in the cost of carbon fiber.

Then there’s the issue of broken panels or those damaged in an accident. In the event of an accident not only would body panels be extremely costly to replace but they could present unprecedented problems for emergency crews. Electrical surges coming from broken body panels could be potentially harmful were rescue persons unaware of the underlying electrical issues.

On a fossil fuel-powered note, cars using traditional 12 volt batteries, which weigh anywhere from 45 - 61 lb (20-28 kg), this technology could also prove beneficial by relocating that hefty chunk of lead from the nose of the car out across larger surface areas.

According to Volvo, weight savings of 15 percent or more could be achieved by replacing a vehicle’s traditional body and relevant electrical components with these new nano-infused carbon fiber panels. Volvo is also keen to point out the positive sustainability aspect that comes as a result of such weight reduction.

Source: Volvo

About the Author
Angus MacKenzie Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. With an education in automotives and marketing, Angus has rebuilt the carburetor on his 1963 Rambler Ambassador twice, gotten a speeding ticket in an F430 once, and driven & photographed everything from Lamborghinis to Maseratis to various German and Asian designs. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine. All articles by Angus MacKenzie

Why not fold up the new (battery)body panels into a battery shape, and make the body out of carbon fibre. Otherwise prangs will cost an absolute fortune. Imagine the cost of insurance!

David Clarke

Not only would these body parts be dangerous after a collision, but carbon fibre is notorious for shattering into very sharp pieces, that can become projectiles in the event of a collision.

I don't think carbon fibre is a suitable material for use on road vehicles, except possibly in parts of the vehicle that are generally contained in the event of a crash, perhaps certain interior parts.


"weight (...) would be spread out evenly over a vehicle’s body. In theory, vehicle handling and performance characteristics would thus improve as a result of this revised displacement idea." - this is new!! AFAIK low lying centre of gravity improves handling etc.,not spread out evenly over a vehicle’s body.


The frame made with carbon fiber would be a better option. Who wants to get shocked and yes, carbon is expensive and shatters. Wrap the carbon frame with non- conductive basalt fibers( much much more affordable).


i'd rather film PV solar panels were glued to the outside panels, part of the metal is removed (thinner panels that weigh less), and some carbon fiber put underneath...acting as batteries. thus making power, batteries, no flying carbon fiber in a crash, and about the same weight? Don't know what to do about electrical charges flying around in event of a crash.

No solution i have seen is perfect. EV's have a ways to go before they rival ICE's, but they are getting closer all the time. IMO the larger car mfg. have not put much effort into making EV's viable. I still think they want the repair parts income and are closely involved with the petroleum industry. Now that almost anyone can donate large amounts of money to politicians, bribes are essentially legal. Proving a donation is not a bribe is almost impossible.

Only consumer interest proven by purchase will overcome the auto mfg. bias.

There have been studies indicating that the amount of carbon / co2 emissions emitted by one volcano, let alone by all of them, exceeds the total output caused by humans. So maybe co2 is not the issue concerning keeping autos green. I think the issue is petroleum products. There aren't many areas in the world left that could possibly produce NEW petroleum. Sure, there are more places to drill and recover those products, but eventually the cost of recovering them will be more than they are worth. Thus, IMO we need a different mode of transport that doesn't require much petroleum products and I'd prefer that mode to be somewhat green.

In Eastern USA or anywhere that you can live, shop, and drive to work closely EV's are now possible. In other areas like where I live, it is over an hour drive to get to a grocery store, gas station, etc. For more esoteric purchases or services my drive is at least 1.5 hours or more (like a good hospital). We have no cell phone service and won't get it because my village has a population of 41 year around residents. If a power line goes down, we also lose our water until power resumes. As a result I am very interested in off the "grid" supplies (not just electricity!). When an EV is for sale with charging stations and repair stations available in my area that i can afford, you can bet that i will buy one...especially if it is a 4wd pickup.


I think I agree this concepts is interesting but not as a body panel. Maybe replacing internal braces and structural components.

I have yet to hear of a completely safe battery construction in the event of a collision. They do not even mention the chemestry they are using. The diagram looks like they are using a capacitive effect which would have a crazy low energy density.

Just to use a hypothetical situation here. Imagine they use Lithium Ion or Lithium polymer batteries inside these panels. Now look up video of penetration testing on Lithium batteries. I've heard them described as "blows up bigger than Texas" which is an exaggeration but brings the point home. Toxic smoke is the first result. Then very hot fire that water does not extinguish.

If they use the carbon fiber as capacitive "plates" then the energy density would be very low and would provide very dangerous discharge issues. For an idea how bad it can get look up incedents involving the high voltage capacitors in "old fashioned" tube TVs and monitors. Then imagine a capacitor the size of a car blast-discharging. I've seen the TV sized caps blast nickel sized holes in sheet metal.

Now to make it clear why using it as a body panel is plain foolish. Imagine you child playing, bicycling, or whatever. He or she smacks into ones of these and cracks/breaks the panel. Lithium or capacitive the child gets a possible fatal electrical blast and is exposed to slicing injury, possibly toxic chemical. That's whith the vehicle parked. Now imagine either of these coliding at highway speeds. Either possibility would create a very dangerous, toxic mess.

Then there is the point David made. These would make a fender bender into a hugely expensive replacement as repair would not be an option.


Just wait until a little ding becomes a battery fire.


"the electric elephant in the room continues to be bulky and weighty battery packs."

no, it is low capacity cold weather performance drop high cost short life

and special bonus, in winter you can either have heat or get back home from work, but not both


Larry English

A little less of the, I heard this or I think I read this, type of statements would be helpful. If you can't reference facts it might be best to say nothing at all.

Jerry Peavy

Interesting and promising battery solutions. However where are the solar panels? I never see electric or hybrid cars incorporate even the smallest solar panel!! While panels will not provide all the required energy it is surprising panels seem to be never incorporated in car design.

Don Betton

Nano anything is dangerous to your health. I hope the Swedes still have that cradle to grave recycling tax.


No impact on these components could cause a battery fire.... because it's not a battery. It's a superconductor, holding static electricity rather than chemical energy, and a chemical battery fire simply cannot happen. The heat from a rapid discharge might pose a risk of igniting fire elsewhere, but it's unlikely.


The worse of both worlds, not better. A poor core material these cells make and as a composite car designing, building person, this is not going to weigh less and make way too many problems to be worth it.

For instance if some cells get hot and other don't, big problems.

Accident speaks for itself.

Facts are EV drive./batteries take up less space than a gas one does. And done right like the Tesla, the battery box greatly improves strength as it's best in the world safety rating clearly shows.

Facts are in the recent Tesla fire the heavy steel object that pierced the battery would have pierced the driver in gas cars!!

Yet the Tesla warned the driver to pull over and it took them from the HOV lane to an exit so they got out safely. Not many gas cars could do that.


The problem with using carbon fiber for structural members is that, while they may be lighter and stiffer than metal parts, they also shatter instead of bend when deformed to failure (e.g. in a car accident) and show no signs of fatigue until they explode in spectacular fashion. When metals fatigue, there will be visible striations (think aluminum wing roots on aircraft) that indicate "hey, this should be replaced soon" whereas composites look fine until they're in a million pieces.

I have no problem with using carbon fiber for body panels (aside from the concerns already voiced by some commenters) but I am leery of carbon fiber structural members for the same reason I am leery of the carbon fiber fuselage on the Dreamliner - a lot can go severely wrong without any warning.

My materials background is in metallurgy but this is how fatigue in composites was explained to me by someone with 30 years of experience with composites. He said to wait to fly on a 787 until a few years from now when the manufacturing kinks are worked out, then they'll be good for another 5-10 years, and then to not fly on them because of the fatigue issue.

Justin Chamberlin

I have been saying for two decades now that no attention is being paid to the two fundamentals of an efficient platform. 1. Weight. Curb weight can be reduced easily to under 2K pounds, more with a two seat coup. 2. Drag. The drag coefficient could be under .2, less if they have the courage to present a radically new design.

This is what the manufactures need to focus on first. This was doable 20 years ago.

Aptera proved it can be done. Why don't they get it?

Don Duncan

Justin, you are correct in describing the way carbon fiber shatters. I'd like to point out that the safety record for composite aircraft has been amazingly good. In fact, the Beech Starship, one of the first production airplanes to use a composite air frame, has never had an inflight breakup or even a fatal crash for that matter. As one of the original developers of the carbon fiber golf shaft and other composite products for the last 35 years, I would trust riding in any vehicle made of the material. Getting hit by one, however, might be another matter.

Bruce Williams

@ sstvp

With capacitors you get a full wattage discharge at the creation of the short circuit. So instead of an energetic fire you get a boom.


If Carbon fiber composite panels can be less weight than traditional lead batteries, can Carbon fiber composite batteries replacing the lead with Carbon fiber composite could prove an alternative for new and already in the market electric cars?

Juan Carlos

Excellent concept Volvo. Next we need to develop nano photo voltaic outer body panels, encapsulate and harden them to absorb energy without shattering into projectiles in an accident and the car should be charged up for the trip home after sitting in the sun during the work day.

These engineering challenges will provide work for our graduating college students. Focus on solving the previously cited limitations. Oil as a fuel can only be used once. Electricity from sun is back each morning....


Panels can be designed in a manner to provide short isolation to safe levels. I can even see panels sold with selling points such as 1,500 fault isolators per sq meter, etc.....

That would address the issue with penetration, corrosion, performance, and other concerns with electrical safety and use because they would be designed to limit exposure to those in contact with the car body.

As far as carbon fiber shattering into dangerous projectiles, that is a matter of resin chemistry. If you go to a sporting goods store that sells fishing poles, you will find poles that flex, and bend far better than metal poles because of resin selection and fiber orientation.

Gary Richardson

I'm sure they can come up with other parts of the car to place these batteries in, which are much less exposed to bumps and crashes.

I guess it wont take a crash to ruin these (expensive, I would expect) body parts. Even a small bump at the car park would probably send you back to the dealer for a 4-digit USD/EUR bill.

And it won't be something that a repair shop can "hammer back" into shape (for small dents and stuff).

Not fun.

Τριαντάφυλλος Καραγιάννης

The idea is a good - but at this stage - flawed one. It might save weight and need a lesser total of batteries, but the afore-mentioned brittle shattering would be a no-deal for most legislations. Use a form of formed plastic covered with thin-film solar cells (every body/roof panel)and the idea looks better.

The Skud

A brilliant concept and kudos go to Volvo's engineers.

But so many armchair critics and pseudo experts. I would suggest that they apply for engineering vacancies at Volvo so that the auto manufacturer can gain the benefit of their wisdom, knowledge and experience in the field........ NOT!


Here in the lighting capital of the planet. I'd like to know the hazard to the occupants of a car equipped with these panels if it is hit by lightning. Sort of a faraday cage if a metal body. With a metal body all four tires can be exploded, occupants can be fine. Would these panels funtion as a faraday cage or as a lighttning rod to the interior.

Dave B13

An average v6 engine weighs in at 425 lbs a v8 around 670 lbs so a 1,000 lbs battery pack that is armored and forms a major structural component at the same time in the Tesla S model is not bad at all. Also the crash forces needed to shatter carbon fiber frames in cars would obliterate a steel car anyway so who are you saving by using steel?

Joseph Mertens

Well said, @Wally3178. The number of people who think they know better than experts in the field amazes me. Just be opening their mouths they demonstrate how ill-informed they are. The myth than all carbon firbe shatters and is not tough is something that the lay-public have latched onto without any understanding. I suggest you all write to Volvo to tell them that your 2min reading of an article is more correct than 3.5 years of their R&D . . .


i may not have a job at volvo, but this will never happen commercially energy storage in body panels ! wle

Larry English
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