Researchers from University of California (UCLA) discovered new supercapacitors based on niobium oxide, which will be able solve the problem of energy storage and availability in both batteries and normal capacitors.
This new discovery, published in the Nature Materials Journal, can lead to a whole new generation of supercapacitors that are able to store and deliver power for a wide range of applications from household energy to kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS).
The material used for building the supercapacitors is based on niobium oxide (which is also used in some stainless steels) and will combine the storage capacity of common lithium ion batteries with the fast energy deployment of normal capacitors.
The main drawback of present battery systems is that they store energy fairly easily, but are not able to deliver the power fast and efficient because the ions (which are responsible for carrying the charge) move through the battery in a slow manner. Capacitors, on the other side, are able to move the charge more efficiently, but their storage capacity is very low.
“The discovery takes the disadvantages of capacitors and the disadvantages of batteries and does away with them,” said Veronica Augustyn, a member of the research group. The niobium oxide material shows increased storage capacity through “intercalation pseudocapacitance”, which means that the ions can be stored just like sand between pebbles. This results in a very thin electrode (40 microns) which can store and deploy energy just as fast as electrodes 100 times thick.
Supercapacitors based on niobium oxide will also have a positive impact on CO2 emissions. Similar devices are already being used to power loading cranes, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels that have been used for decades to power this kind of machinery.
Although the discovery is an important first step, further research will be needed to achieve practical devices for commercial use, such as mobile electronics.