Latest Electric Car Innovation Could Recharge Batteries in Minutes

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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.

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.”

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.”

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on the topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.