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Q&A: Per-Ivar Sellergren, Inventor of Volvo’s Cutting-Edge Body Panel Battery Technology

For almost two decades now, Per-Ivar Sellergren, a senior engineer at Volvo in Sweden has been working on advanced technologies including one increasingly relevant breakthrough--body panels that function as batteries. Getting such a technology out to market would save both cost and weight versus the current solutions for electric vehicles, but obviously it isn’t easy from a technology or safety standpoint to make it happen. Our friend Dan Johnston at Volvo of North America conducted a short interview with Per-Ivar recently, and was nice enough to share it with us:

You mentioned you patented this in 1995. What development in ’95 caused you to develop this patent?

I was working with exterior parts and plastic fenders, and had a past as EV/HEV specialist, when I 1989 wrote a report for our Material Laboratory, how to save weight and volume for an EV if you could design its panel as batteries. When Mr Michele Armand presented the “thin film Li-polymer battery 1991”, the solution was even closer. Volvo were foreseeing and I got money to get the patent.

Is it your patent or Volvo or jointly?

I’m the only inventor, but Volvo is the owner of the patent.

About how much amperage can you get per sq. meter?

It depends on what kind of storage you are talking about. We are developing two storage types. One supecap by the Imperial College in London and one battery by the Swedish Company Sicomp. The supercap is preferably aimed for HEV’s, where you want power and not so much energy. The battery is aimed for an EV which need range and therefore much energy, but moderate power. Both are aimed to build as body panels.

How long will the charge last?

Conventional batteries need chemical reactions to generate juice, a process which causes them to degrade over time and gradually lose the capacity to hold a charge. For the supercaps we need no chemical reactions at all, and for the battery much closer and faster than conventional.

How quickly can it be recharged? I guess that is dependent on amp storage. The supecap is superfast, and it’s charging with very high efficiency. And this is important for HEV’s where you charge and uncharge very frequently. Today most HEV manufacturers use power optimized batteries, but in the quite near future they surely will switch to supercaps.

In a sense, we could make an instrument panel frame out of this material, and just about anything within a body structure. So in a sense if by 2020 we can build cars that don’t crash, we could build a battery car from carbon fiber?

Hopefully Yes.

Any idea how soon? Like 5 years to 10 years? or beyond 10 years?

With the battery history in the rear view mirror, like the introduction of NiCd, NiMH, LiIon and LiPo, I guess it might take a decade before the new material could fully replace existing batteries. I would compare this with the Ni MH battery, which took market shares in 10 years, as the NiCd never reached during 20 years.

How much is manufacturing cost vs. how much saving in conventional body-panel materials and associated energy cost?

This is one of the questions we look for with confidence to answer during this project.

What parts can really be made from this stuff and how much electricity needs to go in versus how much can be extracted before it needs recharging?

All types of body panels, like hoods, doors, roofs, fenders, floor, dashboard, seatings etc. The more flat and large the better . For the new supercap there is no need of chemical reactions to charge the battery, normally giving heat, ageing, fatigue etc, and this gives long lifetime. It’s reasonable to assume the supercap will last the lifetime of the car.

How long will it hold charge before dissipating the electrons?

The final answer we don’t know yet.

Seems Imperial College has a patent as do you. What is the difference?

Volvo has the patent of using panels as battery in vehicles, while Imperial has the patent of the material combination in the battery or supercap.

How do you avoid someone getting a shock, is there a barrier between the fiber/resin and body paint? What about EMI? Do you see that as an issue or only when cables are routed, connecting battery units?

Prior to potential use for production vehicles, the material would have to go through testing to eliminate all risks like these.

Is this a nano technology or, as you mentioned, coatings (resin/epoxy) compounds that are held in place with the carbon fiber fabric?

It is the sort of thing you find in tennis rackets or fishing rods - a carbon fibre composite.The trick is to increase the surface area of the fibres as much as possible without degrading the mechanical properties. The larger the surface, the more electrical charge they can store.


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