Research into battery technology by Surrey and Bristol universities, in partnership with Superdielectrics, could lead to electric vehicles that match the range of fossil fuel equivalents and charge in as little as 10 minutes.
The ground-breaking study into polymer materials could see lithium-ion battery technology superseded. Just a year ago, the partnership announced that their novel polymer materials have dielectric properties 1,000 to 10,000 time greater than existing electrical conductors.
Their breakthrough has now been applied to device-scale practical demonstrations. Small single-layer cells were charged to 1.5 volts for two to five minutes and then ran demonstration devices, such as a small fan. The team also used a three-cell series stack that can be rapidly charged to five volts and operate an LED.
While these are small-scale demonstrations, they prove the technology’s huge potential over lithium-ion batteries. Existing supercapacitors have poor energy density per kilogram – around one twentieth of existing battery technology – offsetting their ability to charge and deliver energy quickly.
Dr Donald Highgate, Director of Research for Superdielectrics said:
The present work, if it can be translated into production, promises to make rapid charging possible for electric vehicles, as well as offering a much-needed low-cost method of storing the transient output from renewable energy systems. Wind, wave, and solar energy is available but it is intermittent and, without storage, cannot be relied upon to meet our energy needs.
“This new work would transform the energy system which underpins our entire way of life – it is the necessary development before we and our children can have a genuinely sustainable, environmentally safe energy supply.”
A new chapter in energy storage
The new material can hold roughly 180 watt-hours per kilogram, a major increase over the 100-120 watt-hours per kilogram storage density found in most ordinary EV batteries.
Dr Brendan Howlin, Senior Lecturer in Computational Chemistry at the University of Surrey, said: “These results are extremely exciting and it is hard to believe that we have come so far in such a short time.
“We could be at the start of a new chapter in the technology of low-cost electrical energy storage that could shape the future of industry and society for many years to come.”
The University of Bristol is going further by producing a complex series-parallel cell structure in which both the total capacitance and operating voltage can be separately controlled.
“Following the unveiling of the preliminary results at the first press conference just 14 months ago, the team has worked hard to increase the storage capability of these innovative materials still further,” said Dr Ian Hamerton, from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, commented.
“Our foremost challenge is now to translate these scientific findings into robust engineered devices and unlock their revolutionary potential.”
Superdielectrics, the company behind this technology, is now looking to build a research and low-volume production centre. If successful in production, the material could be used to power much more than just electric cars or smartphones.
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The big breakthrough in electric vehicle adoption is likely to come from supercapacitors. The ability to store larger amounts of energy in supercapacitors would enable electric vehicles to overcome their two greatest weaknesses: range and charging speed.
The energy density of the new polymer technology is easily capable of surpassing the max range of existing electric vehicles (currently around 350 miles) and could cut charging times from around eight hours to 10 minutes. This would be beyond the tipping point required from these specifications to trigger mass electric vehicle adoption.
The challenge now is developing supercaps that can scale effectively and sustainably, and at a viable cost.