Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Supercapacitor Breakthrough Could Revolutionise Electric Freight Vehicles

New Technology Makes Science Fiction Look Increasingly Like Science Fact
Shipping News Feature
UK – The Universities of Surrey and Bristol, along with Augmented Optics Ltd, have announced that they have made a breakthrough in supercapacitor development that could provide, in their words, a ‘transformational impact on the future of the electric car industry.’ In essence, the research conducted by the institutions in a joint project has developed a way for supercapacitors to efficiently store power in the manner of batteries but without their limitations in terms of recharge times with the potential to transform the world of electrically powered passenger cars and freight trucks and vans.

A supercapacitor stores electricity but until now has not been able to compete with the amount of electricity batteries store. The breakthrough research being announced has discovered new supercapacitor electrolytes which exhibit capacitance values that are 1,000-10,000 times higher than conventional supercapacitor materials. This means that supercapacitors, which charge and discharge very quickly, are likely to surpass current battery technology in the near future.

The technology could potentially mean that electric vehicles would have similar capabilities to their petrol or diesel counterparts in range, with the advantage of being able to recharge as quickly as it takes the time for a conventionally powered vehicle to refuel. Current electric vehicles can take six to eight hours to recharge their batteries and the limitations in range and length of time to recharge are the biggest obstacles to their widespread adoption. It also raises intriguing possibilities in the field of shipping in that, not just land vehicles could be affected, but also in the use of autonomous aerial drones and in the quest to make ocean freight shipping even cleaner.

The development could also have much greater scope outside of vehicle and vessel usage. If the breakthrough translates into very high energy density super-capacitors, then it may be possible to recharge mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.

The research was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago. Though details are still lacking it seems that the team has created a new polymer that they believe will eradicate the problems of supercapacitors charge retention.

In real terms electric vehicles that currently are limited in range to one hundred miles and take eight hours to charge could soon be able to travel 400-500 miles per charge and take minutes to recharge. Dr Brendan Howlin of the University of Surrey, explained:

“There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra-capacity supercapacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments.”

The ground-breaking research programme was conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry where the project was initiated by Dr Highgate. The research team was co-led by the Principal Investigators Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Howlin. Dr Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol, where the electrochemical testing to trial the research findings was carried out by fellow University of Bristol academic, David Fermin, Professor of Electrochemistry in the School of Chemistry.

Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol said:

“While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics. We believe that this is an extremely exciting and potentially game changing development.”

Jim Heathcote, Chief Executive of both Augmented Optics Ltd and Supercapacitor Materials Ltd, said:

“It is a privilege to work with the teams from the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol. The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future. 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.”