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Your Next EV, Batteries Not Included

Electric vehicle charging stations attract customers.
Electric vehicle charging stations attract customers.

It’s been said that the next big thing is a better battery.  However, researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia and Rice University in Houston beg to disagree.  The research team developed a flexible supercapacitor, one that can be put in every nook and cranny of the car’s hood, roof and even doors.  Not only can this assist the battery, it can totally replace it.

Capacitors have long been around and it’s well known that they can store a charge.  The only problem is that they can’t hold as much electricity as a similar sized battery.

However, recent developments in materials science, particularly the discovery of graphene, has opened up a lot of possibilities in developing lightweight, energy dense capacitors.  Nunzio Motta, an engineer at Queensland University, together with his team, made a capacitor that looks like an electrolyte sandwich.  The “bread” that they used is a film composed of graphene and carbon nanotubes.

The great thing about this is that the graphene gives the supercapacitor structural integrity  at a light weight.  Furthermore, since it’s basically just carbon, it turns out relatively cheap.  Add to that the fact that there are no chemicals involved in the energy storage which lends to its ability to pack a lot of power for everyday use.

The weight is the biggest issue why batteries are used more than supercapacitors.  The energy density of current super capacitors is just a tenth of lithium ion batteries.  Graphene alone will not allow supercapacitors to achieve energy density parity with batteries.  However, the graphene-carbon nanotube composite of Motta and his associates will allow supercapacitors to achieve that.

Not only that, since supercapacitors can be formed into any shape with this material, the size and weight may no longer even be a factor.  The thickness of the material is just half the length of a microbe.  Furthermore, it is flexible.

Further development is being done to create a supercapacitor that packs more power than a lithium-ion battery, enough to drive a car for up to 310 miles (around 500 kilometers).  Since supercapacitors don’t depend on chemical reactions for energy storage, charging and the use of stored energy is naturally faster.

With promises of longer range, faster “fueling” and even quicker acceleration, what is there not to like about a supercapacitor equipped car?

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