A Breakthrough in Ultracapacitor Technology

Over the last few days, I’ve come across a number of items documenting the exciting technological breakthroughs occurring within the battery industry. While batteries have continued to evolve at a remarkable pace, the cost associated with these new technologies remains the predominant barrier preventing the widespread commercialization of battery- and fuel cell-powered vehicles.

According to recent reports, newly engineered ultracapacitors present a real opportunity to significantly reduce these costs. MIT’s Technology Review reports that graphene electrodes developed by researchers at Nanotek Instruments in Dayton, Ohio, may inspire ultracapacitors with more than five times the energy density of current commercial devices.

Ultracapacitors store charge electrostatically with ions from an electrolyte clinging to the electrodes within the capacitor. Through the utilization of graphene (described as atom thick sheets of carbon) Nanotek is able to significantly increase the surface area of the electrodes found within the ultracapacitors. Graphene is able to store a much larger charge as ions are able to layer across the carbon sheet enabling easier attachment and subsequent detachment. This allows for large-scale increases in storage capacity.

Nanotek’s tests show that the graphene electrodes could store 85.6 watts of energy per kilogram. Compare that to current ultracapacitors with an energy density of around five to ten watt-hours per kilogram.

When paired with batteries, ultracapacitors are expected to allow for significant improvements in storage capacity and performance as well as substantial reductions in battery size.

These advantages suggest that dramatic reductions in the costs associated with in battery- and hybrid-powered vehicles are very much on the horizon. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois estimate that ultra-capacitors could lower the costs of these vehicles by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Up to this point, public acceptability of these vehicles has been largely determined by the costs associated with the technologies. With the exciting developments taking place within ultracapacitor tech space, mass commercialization of the battery and fuel-cell powered vehicle markets is taking yet another gradual step forward.

Article by Euan Sadden, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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