State of the Ultra Cap State
Written by Michael C
Tuesday, 02 September 2008
Usually when someone discusses the "State of the State" the thought comes to mind that we know what is happening with the "State". Do we know what is happening in the Ultra capacitor state of affairs? Let me see if I can put this in a nut shell for you.
As the auto companies prod the battery makers for the latest design in Lithium - the capacitor companies are working on 2 fronts. Carbon nano-tubes can be the next step in ultra capacitor design. Energy storage would increase dramatically and the cost could come down (carbon is inexpensive). Making Capacitors out of ceramic materials (EEStor) would increase energy storage and have the effect of bringing the cost down (ceramic materials are inexpensive). If either (or both) manufacturing method goes main stream then it will be the game changer the car companies always wanted.
On the battery front though the component for making the latest generation of batteries - Lithium - is in short supply. Like oil there is a finite ability to procure Lithium. Building cars with Lithium batteries will quickly deplete that supply. The battery companies are really up against a wall, they are at the end of the chemical power storage list, there is nothing else that would have more power than the Lithium cell. As the Lithium supply is depleted the cost for this element (no. 3 after Hydrogen and Helium) will go up.
The future is much brighter for the cap companies. Capacitors already enjoy the benefit of fast charging and discharging. Caps can be totally discharged without failure, left in sub zero temperatures for months (or years). Sub zero charging is no problem. Caps also charge at a 95% rate of efficiency. Capacitors can be charged a half million times (or more) and not show any aging (failure to hold full charge). No exotic materials are needed to make a capacitor and no depletion of any material will occur. All these qualities are needed by the auto manufacturers for a car that is less expensive, will start every time and have a long life without problems.
There is really only one problem for the cap makers - how to stuff 10 pounds of power in a 10 pound bag. As for the battery makers - I don't know what they'll do - probably make caps.
Readers have left 3 comments.
No.1 We will not run out of lithium
This idea that there will not be enough lithium if we want to build a world full of plug in hybrid cars is not accurate.
No.2 Still has to be mined, refined and replaced
The stuff still has to be mined which has it's hazards (check with the coal industry), refined for manufacturing into the final product.
Then it has to be replaced - in a year or 2 with another one.
Well, actually no, it does not have to be mined. Almost all lithium these days comes from salt brine which is pumped rather than mined. Indeed, you could view the lithium production process as purifying existing brine pools.
As far as replacing the batteries in a year or two, you must be thinking of some other kind of battery. The kind of lithium batteries that will go into the Chevy Volt will probably be guaranteed for _ten_ years. After that, there are already utilities interested in buying the "used" batteries for peak shaving.
After 20 years with the utilities, you can open the battery up and refine the lithium out of it again and start the 30 year process all over again.