A once in a lifetime breakthrough

January 24th, 2013 § 7 comments

Flying Bomb!

Century old tech that needs to die.
Creative Commons License Audrey & Max

This Super Supercapacitor could be the biggest technological breakthrough since the computer was invented; a battery that doesn’t suck. Though there have been many advances over the past decade the fundamental design of the chemical battery hasn’t changed since it’s invention over a century ago.1 The problem with the battery as we know it really comes down to speed. They are slow to charge and slow to release energy. They are also incredibly toxic. You should feel guilty every time you throw one in the trash.

Enter the Supercapacitor. It will charge in minutes and can discharge just as quickly. Ok so you can charge up your phone and electric car in minutes instead of hours, that’s cool but it doesn’t seem that revolutionary. Here are just a few of the benefits that will come with a battery revolution.

The Super Supercapacitor | Brian Golden Davis from Focus Forward Films.

No more oil

The reason that we are so dependent upon oil is not because Exxon earns billions of dollars ruining the environment; it’s because gasoline is an amazing substance. It sounds boring but the energy to weight ratio of gasoline is unparalleled. If you think of your gas tank as an energy storage device it’s incredibly efficient. You can fill it up in minutes and the amount of power you can get out of it is limited by the size of your engine. Electric cars have to be plugged in overnight in order to top of their batteries and the only way to get a lot of power out of them is to have a dozen or more dishing out power at the same time. To add insult to injury about half the energy stored in our gas tank gets wasted generating heat.2

No More Power Lines

For things that don’t move we use power lines to transport the energy from distant power stations to your home or office. Beyond the fact that they ruin views and fall down during storms they are inherently inefficient. Transporting electricity long distances not only causes a loss of energy but the power plants have to generate power when people are going to use it rather than when it’s most efficient. This means that power plants are required to have a high-capacity to handle the evening hours but sit mostly idle during the night. More importantly this makes it very hard for alternative energy sources to compete. We harness wind when we can get it and solar during the middle of the day neither of which match up terribly well with our demands. The best place to harness this energy is also typically far away from urban areas. These factors add costs that reduce their viability when compared to coal and natural gas.

So a better battery not only makes electric cars a viable alternative but it will give a huge boost to alternative forms of generating energy. Put a wind farm in the middle of the ocean or a solar farm in the middle of a desert and simply transport Supercapictors back and forth.

The little things

The battery in our portable devices makes up a very significant portion the weight and bulk. Much the advances that Apple has made in shrinking their devices has come from brilliant work with the inherently crappy technology. Take a look at the guts of this iPhone 5 and you will see what I mean. Now imagine if they didn’t have to waste so much time coming up with clever ways to stick a huge battery in a tiny phone. One of the reasons it took them so long to add 4G to their phones was because the 4G chips needed to improve their power efficiency. People that picked up early 4G phones often turned 4G off because it would drain their battery in a couple of hours.

And that’s just the beginning because just like the computer it is almost impossible to imagine what can be done with a technology that is this transformative. It will do to electronics what the internet has done to computers. Would you like a GPS tracker in your keys? A laptop that needs to be charged once a month? Perhaps a phone as thick as a piece of glass? These are the type of things that are impossible with our current technology.

I had hoped to see something this revolutionary in my lifetime. I never dreamed it would happen this soon. I really, really hope this technology pans out.

  1. There are even those who think that ancient civilizations used clay pots to create a chemical battery though I’m dubious. []
  2. Obviously this ignores the carbon factor but I believe the best way to ditch oil is to come up with something better. []


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§ 7 Responses to A once in a lifetime breakthrough"

  • Ben says:

    Definitely interesting applications for graphene, lots of research in all sorts of fields, looks like. Also should mention that supercapacitors are a lot more reliable than batteries (Dreamliner fire, anyone?). Developing better storage (calling it a battery is misleading, I suppose) has always been one of the prongs of a hoped-for energy solution, along with energy efficiency and energy generation. Still have to generate the energy, though. Oil and coal retain market advantages even with improved storage. Improved storage is certainly a step in the right direction, for sure, though not a panacea.

    • Thomas Paine says:

      True, it’s not a panacea, but I feel that without better storage we will never be able to rid ourselves of the addiction to oil & coal. If, however, we combine better storage with what appears to be rapidly advancing solar technology (it’s getting cheaper and more efficient) I think we will finally be able to put fossil fuels behind us.

  • Ben says:

    Check your spelling, by the way? I think it’s “supercapacitor” rather than “supercapictor.”

  • […] No mention of the cost to produce these batteries or whether it’s even feasible to manufacture them in bulk but that’s really besides the point. The battery revolution is coming and it’s going to change everything. […]

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