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By: Justinas Liuima

    On 17 October, Volvo revealed new energy storage technology, developed in collaboration with London’s Imperial College and eight other partners through an EU-financed project aiming to replace heavy and expensive conventional hybrid and electric car batteries. If successful, it could make electric vehicles more appealing.

    Volvo-Cars-picture.gif

    Source: Volvo Cars

    Background to this New Technology

    The technology created by Volvo uses super capacitors, reinforced by carbon fibre and polymer resins. The application of super capacitors in the car industry is nothing new, although Volvo has pioneered technology which enables moulded body panels to store electrical energy. Volvo is now trying to integrate the new system into the boot lid and ventilation duct of its S80 model.

    The new energy storage system combines the best features of hybrid and electric cars. It allows the harnessing of power through the regeneration of kinetic energy and plugging the vehicle into the
    electricity grid. The super capacitor-based system is also lighter, and thus provides a longer driving range. Its lifetime is longer and it is more environmentally-friendly.

    Drawbacks

    The main disadvantage of super capacitor technology, however, is its higher price, which starts at around US$2,400 per kWh. Consumers are willing to pay extra for electric and hybrid cars, but not more than around 15%, thus a further drop in price is needed before the technology can become economically viable.

    The power storing system is still to go through a series of tests and safety improvements. It is not fully clear how it would act in the event of a traffic accident. It is also unclear how the emergency
    services would work around the vehicle without breaking the electrical circuit.

    Making Electric Vehicles More Attractive

    As of 2012, there were more than 180,000 electric vehicles registered in the world, according to the International Energy Agency. If successful, new technology could significantly contribute to the popularity of electric vehicles, which are forecast to reach 20 million by 2020.

    New technology would allow quicker recharging and offer more space in the car, making it more appealing to consumers. Cars with new technology could be recharged in a matter of minutes, compared to the 3-8 hours charging cycle of conventional batteries.

    The range of electric vehicles would also increase as a result of reduced weight. According to Volvo, weight could be reduced by at least 15%. Even though conventional batteries provide sufficient range for an average consumer, driving distance remains an important psychological barrier and a longer driving range would definitely be more appealing for buyers.

    There are also financial aspects involved. A new generation of more efficient batteries is expected to be commercialised by 2020, however at the relatively high price of US$480 per kWh. Meanwhile, super capacitor prices could decline to US$150 per kWh by then, according to one super capacitor producer – Nanotune.

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