In my mind, ultracapacitors and hydrogen play similar roles. They are both advanced, proposed forms of energy storage that always seem just over the horizonâ€¦ no matter how far along we travel. With hydrogen, the problem is not the power generating technology itself â€“ fuel cells exist, and they work great. The problem is that we have poor means of storing and distributing the fuel. Ultracapacitors have the opposite problem. The infrastructure for transmitting and generating electricity is all in place; what we lack are the actual ultracapacitors themselves.
Granted, scientists are hard at work trying to build these ultracapacitors, and with the nanotechnology available to material scientists today, there is good reason to believe it is within our reach. But Iâ€™m not such a patient guy, and I still want to see real live examples of ultracapacitors in action.
Looks like Iâ€™ll have to go to South Korea, because thatâ€™s where ultracapacitors from Maxwell Technologies (of San Diego) were shipped earlier this year, and are now being tested. The South Korean government has hooked them up to a Korean subway system, where they will capture electricity from regenerative braking. A full demonstration of the technology isnâ€™t scheduled to happen until mid 2009, but for now Maxwell claims that tests are going well. They say that they could reduce grid consumption by 20%!
More importantly, if we see real, working, prototypes from Maxwell, that means that car-sized ultracapacitors might not be that far off. An ultracapacitor-powered electric vehicle is better than a lithium-ion powered one, because it can charge in minutes, rather than hours.
Maxwell! Bring some of those ultracapacitors to New York! Weâ€™ve got plenty of subways here, let me tell you. In fact, I think I wouldnâ€™t mind the ear-splitting screetch of the 1 Train if I knew that all that braking was going to a good purpose. Well, not as much anyway.
Via Greentech Media
Lithium-ion batteries may be impressive, but some people feel they can do better – with zinc. Power Air, a startup from Livermore, CA, is designing zinc oxide fuel cells. In their fuel cells, zinc is dissolved in an electrolyte solution, and exposure to the air causes zinc oxide to form, releasing electrons and generating electricity. In theory, the zinc oxide can be collected, reduced back to zinc metal and fed back into the cycle.
Zinc air batteries are already used in hearing aids, though companies like Power Air hope to build batteries more suited for power and charging mobile electronic devices. Toyota is even researching ways to use zinc-air cells in electric vehicles, though they have put a 2020 timeline on the project, which means we won’t be seeing it any time soon.
As far as the chemistry goes, using zinc is no different than any other fuel cell, or regular battery for that matter (zinc, in fact, is a major component of most alkaline batteries). So what’s so special about it? It has two big advantages over something like lithium. Firstly, it is abundant and cheap, whereas there are fears about the supply of lithium. Secondly, it is safe and recyclable. It also has a relatively high energy density (energy contained per unit of volume).
Of course, it has its drawbacks. How would the zinc actually get recycled? Would battery owners have to recycle it themselves? How much energy would be going into reducing the zinc metal? And how does it make sense to make a car battery out of zinc? Zinc is far heavier than lithium, and delivers far fewer watts per pound… not ideal for a car.
Guess we’ll leave it to Power Air to show us that a zinc economy is feasible.
Via CNET Green Tech news
Image vie Power Air
Japanese battery company Furukawa has just closed a deal with East Penn, a US battery manufacturer. The latter will soon be distributing a new battery made by the Japanese company. What is so special about this battery? It’s a hybrid! This hybrid, though, has nothing to do with fossil fuels. Instead, the “Ultrabattery” combines two existing technologies: standard chemical batteries (the type of battery seen virtually everywhere) and supercapacitors (not as common).
Let’s quickly review some basic electricity-storage ABCs, shall we? A “regular” battery consists of two chemicals which want to react with each other, but are separated by a barrier that keeps them effectively separated. However, when you build a circuit between them, they cause electrons to flow through the circuit – and thus, your battery-powered device can function. A capacitor, on the other hand, consists of two charged metal plates: one negative and one positive. The electrons want to jump from the negative plate to the positive plate, but they are separated by an insulator. Build a circuit between the two and – zap – you get a burst of electricity.
The Ultrabattery is a hybrid lead-acid battery and capacitor. It runs off of the lead-acid battery most of the time, but keeps an auxiliary capacitor charged in case the motor needs that extra boost of energy. The battery lasts several times longer than the standard lead-acid battery, and is 70% cheaper than the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries being designed for most other EVs.
I assume that the aforementioned price is the reason that Furukawa chose lead-acid over NiMH. However, as we all know, lead is heavy. One would intuitively think that a lighter, albeit more expensive NiMH-capacitor hybrid would be a more appealing product, especially if NiMH costs decline over time. Perhaps that is something we will see if the Ultrabattery proves to be a hit.
Via Green Car Congress
Good podcasts are like coffee for me – they get me energized and I can’t get enough. So I’m happy to say that IBM, as part of their podcast series about “the Future of…..”, has put out a podcast called “IBM and the Future of Energy” to explore the way the energy industry is changing thanks to a growing consumer consciousness around green issues. Consumers are requiring better technology for energy management and companies large and small are happy to deliver. The podcast covers smart grids, and has some great interviews with Mark van den Berg of Vantage Point Venture Partners, and Allan Schurr and Drew Clark of IBM. If you’re interested, you may want to go have a listen.