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Company Promises to Develop Battery-Replacing Ultracapacitors in Electric Vehicles

Nanotune's porous ultracapacitor electrode seen through a micrograph

For years, people have been thinking to reduce or even eliminate gasoline-powered vehicles, and switch to battery-powered ones. The the battery-powered electric vehicles’ era hasn’t already begun well enough, and now some are even thinking to replace batteries with something else: ultracapacitors.

Already being used in everything from the screen you’re reading now, to the latest hybrid buses, capacitors can quickly charge with electricity and discharge as quickly, yet they don’t lose their charging capacity even after a hundred thousand times of charging cycles.

Nanotune, a CA-based startup thinks it’s able to replace lithium ion batteries with ultracapacitors in the near future. With $3 million in funding they got from venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, the company has already developed an ultracapacitor that can hold as much as 35 watt-hours per kilogram, with plans to even reach 500 watt-hours per kilograms. When they’ll reach that figure, they’ll have surpassed current lithium ion batteries three to four times. The company hopes that by the end of the year they’ll be able to reach a 40 watt-hour capacity.

Battery weight is one of the issues electric car manufacturers are facing today. For example, Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced electric car, has limited the battery capacity so the car only has a 73 mile autonomy, just because of the inherent disadvantages batteries offer.

Ultracapacitors, on the other hand, are small, light and powerful, and they don’t need much cooling equipment like batteries do  – a big safety advantage over lithium ions. Even if Nanotune managed to reach 100 watt-hours/kg, it would be a big step further because the weight would make them more fit to using in electric cars than batteries.

Prices are still spicy for ultracapacitors, ranging from $2,400 to $6,000 per kilowatt-hour. In order to be competitive with conventional gasoline cars, the price has to drop somewhere around $250, and there’s a good chance for that to happen, judging by the current market trends.

All in all, there have already been promises from various companies regarding ultracapacitors, but they had been hard to keep and for some it has even proved impossible. Let’s hope Nanotune’s electrodes will be able to fill the hole and make ultracapacitors a viable alternative to batteries.

[via technologyreview]

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