WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Electric vehicles have been held back by battery and charging technologies, now a single supercapacitor technology might be able to solve both in one hit
UK technology firm Augmented Optics and its partners, the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol have revealed a new supercapacitor material that they say can charge an electric vehicle as quickly as refueling a conventional car, and the new breakthrough could render lithium-ion batteries obsolete.
The new material that could replace conventional lithium-ion batteries, which are the most commonly used types of batteries by far, is a soft polymer that’s based on, oddly enough a technology found in contact lenses, and it dramatically boosts the performance of supercapacitors, the lightweight electronic components that store and distribute high volumes of power.
The new polymers are based on large organic molecules composed of many repeated sub-units and bonded together to form a 3D network and it’s been tested by researchers at the University of Surrey and University of Bristol whose analysis showed that the new technology is between 1,000 and 10,000 times more effective than current supercapacitors.
“If these are half as good as we think they are, and with more experience, they may take over entirely,” said Dr. Donald Highgate, the technical director at Augmented Optics, who also announced that the group has been working in secret on the project until just a few weeks ago when they broke cover and filed for a patent.
Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles, but current supercapacitors are unable to hold charges as efficiently as batteries, and it’s this that’s so far slowed their adoption, for example, where they’re used on buses in China the buses have to recharge every three or four miles. Which is a bit impractical.
This new material brings the new supercapacitors closer to the storage capacity of a lithium-ion batteries, but with the added benefits of immediate recharging and cheaper production costs.
“Although we didn’t initially look at the automotive industry, as the results came in, it became apparent the car industry could be one of the first ones to adopt this technology,” said University of Bristol’s Dr. Ian Hamerton, a scientist on the project.
Previously Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk has said he would bet on supercapacitors over batteries to deliver a breakthrough for electric cars, and, judging by the results we’ve seen so far, he might just be right. And as for the teams next step? They want to build a prototype electric car by the end of this year that can be charged up to a range of 150 miles in just a few seconds. Sign me up for one!
Matthew Griffin Global Futurist, Tech Evangelist, X Prize Mentor ● Int'l Keynote Speaker ● Disruption, Futures and Innovation expert
Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute, a global futures think tank, is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew mentors several XPrize teams, and is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who is regularly featured on the BBC, Discovery, Kurzweil, Newsweek, TechCrunch and VentureBeat. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew shines a light on the future and helps them transform their industries, organisations, products and services by demonstrating how the combination of democratised, and increasingly powerful emerging technologies, are helping fuel cultural, industrial and societal change that is transforming old industries and creating new ones. Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.