As one would expect, advances in battery technology translate into opportunities for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers. Scientists from the University of Central Florida (UCF) might have just cracked the lithium ion battery code. By creating a supercapacitor battery prototype that “works like new even after being recharged 20,000 times,” this new tech could yield “high-capacity, ultra-fast-charging batteries that last over 20 times longer than a conventional lithium-ion cell,” according to a recent Engadget article.
Even though the supercapacitor technology is still in its concept phase, if successful, the possibilities are endless. From charging smartphone devices in a matter of seconds to recharging an EV in minutes, the game of “finding a charging station” would be as obsolete as cash-only tollbooths. Not only would our smartphones charge in seconds, the new supercapacitor technology would sustain the charge for weeks.
Whether you point the finger at capacity or volatility, it’s no secret that improvements need to be made around lithium-ion battery technology. In a recent iReviews feature article and according to Tesla, “the battery pack starts deteriorating at 4-5 years of use, and by the 8th year, the capacity decreases by 30 percent.” With a minimum battery price tag of $12K, it’s a rather expensive and critical part to replace after only five years of owning your $35K Tesla Model 3. Tesla’s new Gigafactory hopes to tap into what the company says is another 30% increase in energy in weight for lithium-ion batteries. Elon Musk, always the visionary, predicted that supercapacitors, not hydrogen, would be the breakthrough for electric vehicles. “Ultracapacitors charge and discharge in seconds, have a lifetime of up to 500 times that of lithium-ion batteries, and are highly reliable.”
So, will Elon Musk’s supercapacitor crystal ball come true? According to Engadget’s article on UCF’s new battery tech, “supercapacitors store electricity statically on the surface of a material, rather than using chemical reactions like batteries.” The material required is usually a two-dimensional sheet with a surface area large enough to hold electrons. This leaves the 2D graphene as the material of choice and is currently being used by Henrik Fisker and UCLA to develop his groundbreaking EV:
Fisker’s EMotion EV, with its graphene-based hybrid supercapacitor technology, packs some serious power. Named Fisker Nanotech, the innovative battery tech is the brainchild of Fisker and Nanotech Energy, Inc. and is the engine behind the 400-mile (640 km) projected range.
Seems too good to be true, right? The problem with graphene: “it’s a challenge to integrate with other materials used in supercapacitors,” according to Yeonwoong Jung from UCF. So his team discovered a new approach: by wrapping 2D metal materials (TMD’s) only a few atoms thick around highly conductive ID nanowires, letting electrons pass quickly from the core to the shell, they created “a fast charging material with high energy and a power density that’s relatively simple to produce.” In other words, they created a material capable of sustaining a charge for a significant amount of time. “For small electronic devices, our materials are surpassing the conventional ones worldwide in terms of energy density, power density, and cyclic stability,” says UCF postdoctoral associate Nitin Choudhary.
From Tesla building its lithium-ion Gigafactory to the team of scientists at UCF creating their fast-charging material, it appears that supercapacitors are the answer to our poor performing batteries housed in our electronics.