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TRANSPORT: BATTERIES


Ultra-capacity polymer supercapacitors:


Can they ever displace auto batteries? E


lectric Vehicles (EVs) are coming – and in force. Navigant Research forecasts EV sales will rise from 2.6 million last year to more than 6 million in 2024.


There are already more than 60,000 home charge points for electric cars in the UK, and new research finds these sockets will be one of the most desirable features of neighbourhoods in 20 years’ time. Up to now, it has been assumed that


electric cars would be battery operated and hybrid vehicles will form a major part of the market. But what about the potential for an alternative technology – supercapacitors? Both batteries and supercapacitors are electrochemical energy storage media, but they are as different as night and day. Both are capable of energy storage and targeted energy release – and yet there are major


One company thinks they can and has filed patents in


anticipation of bringing its new technology to market. Andy Pye reports


differences between the two. Batteries store very large amounts of energy that is released slowly but constantly. By contrast, supercapacitors can only


store small amounts of energy (they have poor energy density per kilogramme) but they release this energy much faster and more powerfully with large short-term peak currents. Nevertheless, they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.


Now, a major scientific breakthrough


based on groundbreaking research from the University of Surrey claims to have discovered new materials offering an alternative to battery power and between 1,000 and 10,000 times more powerful than existing supercapacitors. Patents on the new materials have been filed by a company called Augmented Optics and its wholly-owned subsidiary Supercapacitor Materials, registered specifically for the purpose of commercialising them. Supercapacitors with these properties


would allow electric cars to travel similar distances as petrol-powered vehicles, but without the need to stop for lengthy recharging breaks of typically six to eight hours. Instead, they would recharge fully in the time it takes to fill a regular car with petrol. Very high energy density supercapacitors would also make it possible to recharge a mobile phone or laptop in just a few seconds.


 Supercapacitors could dramatically cu the charge time of present day EVs to just minutes


THE CHEMISTRY The technology has been adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago. The research programme was conducted at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry, co-led by Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Brendan Howlin. Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol. The materials are known as hydrophilic polymers. They are based on large organic molecules composed of many repeated sub-units and bonded together to form a three-dimensional network. The test results from the new polymers (See Table :Resistance of a Standard test Sample) suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future. Not only that, but the


December 2016 /// Environmental Engineering /// 45





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