New technology involves composite materials that can serve as a battery and also be molded right into the body paneling of the car.

How about making the body panels of an electric car also a battery?

That's the idea that Volvo is looking at in order to find a more convenient way to store batteries on future electric cars. The Swedish automaker is currently testing that possibility by taking part in a €3.5 million project by the European Union (EU) to develop the technology.

The project is centered at Imperial College in London with nine companies and institutes from across Europe participating. Volvo is the only automaker in the group.

The way the technology would work is rather simple - conceptually, at least. It involves using a composite of carbon fibers and polymer resin that can store energy more efficiently than current batteries while at the same time being strong and flexible so that it can be molded right into the vehicle's body paneling.

According to Volvo, the use of such composite material for the battery can reduce a car's weight by up to 15 percent (replacing the steel of standard body panels) while still offering the safety of current cars.

The study project is set to last three years during which time Volvo hopes to gain more ideas about the possible application of this technology.

"Almost daily I read new ideas about how this technology could be used or further developed. The potential is enormous," says Volvo engineer Per-Ivar Sellergren, who works at the Volvo Cars Materials Centre.

The technology could also one day be used to reduce mobile phones to the size of a credit card and allow laptop computers to run on battery power for much longer than they can today.

Gallery: Volvo developing technology that will make an electric car's body its battery too