Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia may have a potential solution for powering electric vehicles: supercapacitors, specifically graphene and carbon nanotube-based ones. With this technology, the car’s body panels could help charge the car rapidly, even within a few minutes. They could be stored in the body panel, roof, floor, and doors. So what are supercapacitors and how do they work? Let’s consider a traditional battery. According to BERC:
“Batteries store energy electrochemically, where chemical reactions release electrical carriers that can be extracted into a circuit. This can be illustrated with the example of the lithium ion battery: During discharge, the energy-containing lithium ion travels from the high-energy anode material through a separator, to the low-energy cathode material. The movement of the lithium releases energy, which is extracted into an external circuit. When the battery is charged, energy is used to move the lithium ion back to the high-energy anode compound.”
By comparison, supercapacitors don’t use chemicals. Instead, they store charge electrostatically on the surface of the material. These capacitors have two conductive (usually metal) plates. One has a positive charge and the other a negative charge. While charging, the ions accumulate on the surface of the plates. Unlike traditional batteries whose chemicals degrade over time, supercapacitors can be charged over and over again without losing quality. These supercapacitors hold less energy than a lithium ion battery, but their true strength is their ability to deliver energy quickly. In the case of electric vehicles, this could be incredibly useful for accelerating, a process that takes up a large burst of energy. Since supercapacitors don’t have the ability to hold a large amount of energy, QUT imagines that they could be used in addition to the current lithion ion batteries that are already used in EV’s.
Despite their low charge capacity, using supercapacitors could drastically improve the charge of electric vehicles, however. Researchers at QUT believe that supercapacitors could increase the range of EV’s to 500 km, about 310 miles. Researcher researcher Marco Notarianni says, “Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared to several hours for a standard electric car battery.” QUT also believes that supercapacitors will affect the economics and environmental impact of EV’s. Supercapacitors can potentially be manufactured cheaply and can be recycled more responsibly, because they do not contain battery chemicals.
We can expect this awesome technology to be used in about five years.