Could a new supercapacitor technology replace batteries?

Batteries 4 (c) CHARGED

Supercapacitors, which feature long cycle life and high power density, are a common topic here at Charged – many foresee them working together with batteries. However, researchers from Augmented Optics in collaboration with the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol, have developed new electrolytes that they believe could be used to create supercapacitors with energy storage capacities equal to or greater than those of existing battery systems.

The new, crosslinked gel-matrix polymer electrolytes have exhibited capacitance values more than 100 times those of conventional electrolytes, and are compatible with all normal production electrodes. Augmented Optics has formed a subsidiary, SuperCapacitor Materials, to commercialize the materials.

Two recent papers shed some light on the new technology: “All solid state flexible supercapacitors operating at 4 V with a cross-linked polymer–ionic liquid electrolyte,” published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A; and “Current trends in redox polymers for energy and medicine,” published in Progress in Polymer Science.

The Augmented Optics technology was adapted from principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr. Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed 40 years ago.

“The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very near future,” said Jim Heathcote, CEO of Augmented Optics and Supercapacitor Materials. “We are now actively seeking commercial partners in order to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra high energy density storage devices.”


Source: University of Surrey via Green Car Congress

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    This sounds fantastic. Super capacitors have held out the tantalising prospect of huge charge and discharge currents and very long life but have so far failed on grounds of energy density (both gravimetric but mostly volumetric) and cost per kWh of storage that they can provide. These new electrolytes promise to fix the energy density problem and as a consequence probably the cost problem as well.
    Still a little early to start selling LG, Panasonic and Samsung shares when a working capacitor has yet to be demonstrated. Nevertheless Elon Musk and Panasonic with their enormous investment in a battery manufacturing Giga-factory which is just about to start producing 2170 Li-ion cells stand to be dramatically affected should the promise of high density super-capacitors turn into a reality.

  • Food4Thought

    For those us us who used to follow THEEESTORY stories of a suercapacitor always raise an eyebrow. Maybe this tech can make it to prime time someday. Or maybe it will remain as elusive as Bigfoot sightings. I wish them luck!

    • Robert (Electricman) Weekley

      Well, Honestly, if they can get a retail product out there that does as much energy density as a Lead Acid Battery, they could tap into the Regular Automotive Market, replacing Lead Acid SLI (Starter, Lights, Ignition) Batteries for ICE Cars, even that would be of some benefit: Lighter Weight would be a Bonus – and if they could deliver the 70+ Wh/Kg they are suggesting, they would be about Double Lead Acid, so there is that, plus – longer cycle life = Less heading for Recycling (= Lees Heavy Battery Shipping, using more Diesel in big trucks, etc.). More Rapid Power delivery, might also equal less wear on starts, and potential for Creating a whole new pre-heat accessory for Engine Blocks and Oil Pre-Heating!

      They might even get some traction then in the EV Conversion Markets, as well (If the Price is right)!

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    Such a tantalising prospect. I imagine Toyota, who up to now have mostly resisted the charms of pure electric vehicles may have just developed a little more spring in their step on receipt of this news. Their reluctance to mass-produce a pure electric vehicle may in hindsight look less like managerial incompetence and more like masterful inactivity.
    Still we have seen many apparent breakthroughs in energy storage but the recent real improvements (around 6% per annum) have been steady but undramatic. This may turn out to be yet another great idea with some insurmountable attached problems but it could equally well be the game changer we had hoped for.

    • Michael B

      “some insurmountable attached problems”

      Cost being one of them, perhaps?

      “but it could equally well be the game changer we had hoped for.”

      Probably not *equally* well/likely, but one can dream…

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    I’ve just visited the linked website for SuperCapacitor Materials and it lists the energy density as 3-7 Wh/kg. That would make a SuperCapacitor equivalent of the latest and greatest Tesla 100kWh Li-ion battery pack weigh 20 tonnes. I guess there is still a long way to go before Li-ion cells for EV’s will be replaced by capacitors. I feel my earlier enthusiasm curbed.

    • Bill Davis

      ~4 Wh/kg is current SC technology. According to the abstract of the published paper, this technology achieved 72.23 Wh/kg (in the laboratory I assume). A 100 kWh pack would “only” weigh ~1400 kg. This may sound like a lot, but I imagine that you’d only install ~20 kWh since you’d still be able to get high power and fast recharge times out of it. That would be comparable to an original Nissan LEAF battery in capacity and weight (I don’t know about volume), but you could recharge in minutes (seconds?) and still get long cycle life. A promising development if it’s successful!

      • dogphlap dogphlap

        Thank for your reply. I had only been to their web site, I have not read their paper or abstracts for that paper so I’m in your debt for supplying those numbers which show almost a 20 fold increase in energy density over your figure of 4Wh/kg. An astounding improvement but still short of the 100 fold increase claimed in several places on their website. The website is strong on fine words but almost devoid of numbers which is disappointing, in fact were it not for the reputation of the universities involved I’d be a lot more sceptical. Still this is new technology so rapid improvements would not be unexpected at this early stage.

        I hope we hear more of these super capacitors with the new electrolyte.
        I wonder when the first super-capacitor to use these new electrolytes will be shown/demoed/on-sale.

      • Robert (Electricman) Weekley

        Hi Bill, Looks like I missed your reply before I popped in my reply, but – per the “this technology achieved 72.23 Wh/kg” note, then – I would say that if this was a retail product it could already do the job of replacing Lead Acid Batteries, which are only at about half that energy density (30-35-40 Wh/Kg)!

        It could also be a great supplement to Lithium Cells from LiFePO4, to LiPo, and to even the LiNiAlCoSi variants! Did you find anything mentioning that the product was, in fact, a regularly available item yet?

    • Robert (Electricman) Weekley

      Wow! Yeah – just read that same thing! I understand that even a Lead Acid Battery is good for about 35 Wh/Kg!

      Yup: Wh/kg = 35-40 From –

      Or – Specific Energy (Wh/kg) = 30[Flooded lead acid]; 40 [VRLA lead acid] from –

      So – at just 3-7 Wh/kg, it has a ways to go to match Lead Acid! When it does, it could start to compete in Mobile Applications, if the Price is OK!

      It might also then be practical for Stationary Storage with Super Long Life, High Power Transfer, and moderate weight (easier to handle in larger capacity modules, like a 12V Lead Acid Battery)!

  • Sy Gung Ho

    Even if these end up being fairly expensive or heavy, great ultracapacitors like these can be used to improve regenerative breaking in EVs. It would take just a small one to absorb 100% of the energy when coming to a quick stop and then it could pass the energy to the Li-ion battery over several minutes. Another big use could be for trains and buses which can either recharge while at each station in just a few seconds, or recharge at both terminals of a 5 – 10 mile route. A taxi fleet could have 2 kWh ultracapacitors (8 miles) in addition to 20 kWH Li-ion (for 80 miles) and 90% of the trips would make use of just the ultracapacitors, which can be recharged instantly between pick up at various charging stations around town fitted for very high kW. Customers wouldn’t mind much if their taxi got a quick recharge during the ride if a charging station was on the way, since it takes so little time.

    • brian_gilbert

      The energy stored in the supercapacitor when braking does not have to be passed on to the battery. It is mentioned elsewhere that it is usually used for the acceleration which normally follows the braking.

      • Sy Gung Ho

        That is generally true, however I was thinking about cases where one is going downhill for a considerable distance, as in a switchback coming down a mountain. You brake hard on the turns and then there is a long straight away that needs little power. However, upon further reading I am finding that current regenerative braking directly into the Li battery is fine for all but emergency braking, so maybe this idea of using a supercapacitor for braking is not that useful.

        • brian_gilbert

          O.K. That saving is not significant anyway with a Completely Driverless coumtry compared to the huge savings not having to pay drivers, shorter trip times and less vehicles needed because they are hired by the trip and used intensively. There is also a huge saving from no longer needing parking space for all those idele vehicles.