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Latest Electric Car Innovation Could Recharge Batteries In Minutes

Imagine the fender of an electric car not just preventing mud splatters but also turbocharging the vehicle’s battery in a matter of minutes. And imagine this technology on the road in about five years.

Stop imagining. Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia report that they’ve developed inexpensive supercapacitors that can be used in tandem with ordinary batteries to increase the acceleration of an electric car and can recharge the batteries in a matter of minutes.

The supercapacitors are thin films made up of an electrolyte, which conducts electricity, sandwiched between two electrodes made of graphene, a sheet of carbon one-atom thick. This film is flexible and so can be embedded in a car’s body panels, such as the roof, fenders, hood, even the floor.

Related: Acceleration Record Set By Electric Car: 0 to 100km In Under 1.8 Seconds

And their power density – the amount of electrical energy they can store – is so great that it can quickly and fully turbocharge a car’s battery.

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in,” said Marco Notarianni of QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty. “They hold a limited amount of charge, but they are able to deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries.”

And, Notarianni said, cars with such technology could be commercially available in five years. The researchers’ findings are published in the Journal of Power Sources and another scholarly publication, Nanotechnology.

One member of the QUT team, Jinzhang Liu, a postdoctoral research fellow, said today’s graphene-based supercapacitor has a lower energy density than a Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery used to power a car. Despite this, a supercapacitor’s ability to release power quickly is far greater than a conventional battery.

“In the future,” Liu said, “it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than a Li-Ion battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster, meaning the car could be entirely powered by the supercapacitors in its body panels.

“After one full charge this car should be able to run up to 500km, similar to a petrol-powered car and more than double the current limit of an electric car,” Liu said.

Related: Hyundai Faces Huge Penalties For Inflated Mileage Claims

Some researchers once looked to graphene-based supercapacitors as an eventual replacement for Li-Ion batteries for powering electric cars. But even if that turns out not to be possible, the devices’ role as a complement to Li-Ion batteries remains extremely valuable.

The discovery could mean a lot to the global automotive industry and its customers, not only because electric cars have less impact on the Earth’s environment, but also because the components of the supercapacitors are very inexpensive.

And there’s a lot to like about the QUT’s supercapacitors beyond powering cars. They can be used in many non-automotive, battery-powered applications, Liu said, “for example, by putting the film on the back of a smart phone to charge it extremely quickly.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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  • David Hrivnak on November 11 2014 said:
    While definitely an interesting technology most of the touted benefits are already here.

    Tesla cars are already faster than any ICE counterpart. The Nissan Leaf can recharge in minutes on CHAdeMO. And Tesla Model S has very fast recharging in the Supercharger network.
  • Robert on November 11 2014 said:
    Unfortunately, this piece is misleading.

    For instance, it states: "And their power density – the amount of electrical energy they can store – is so great that it can quickly and fully turbocharge a car’s battery"

    Power density is NOT energy density. Capacitors of all types (electrostatic, electrolytic, electric double layer) have always had high power density, regardless of their energy density. Energy density of modern ultracapacitors (double layer type) is orders of magnitude greater than previous types, but is merely a single digit percentage compared to NiMH battery energy density, and an even lower ratio compared to any Li chemistry cell. While it is true that the energy density of modern ultracapacitors has reached a point that they offer a viable engineering choice for augmenting acceleration and regenerative braking, suggesting that they hold great promise to reduce main battery charge time is beyond stretching the truth... it is simply false.

    At the end of the day, electrification of the main arteries of travel will be necessary in order to make electrically powered transportation competitive with ordinary cars. Ultracapacitors do go a long way toward making this tenable, and so I encourage researchers to continue to strive for improvements in the technology such as higher energy density and/or lower cost.

    At the same time, I do wish that instead of so much hype, there were more critical analytics employed in garnering support for research and development. This is because I know very well that some very good ideas are completely unsupported even as many hyped up but bad ideas are lavished in governement subsidy.

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