An Alternative to Traditional Batteries Is One Step Closer

Two AA and three AAA batteries.

Battery cells (Image by Андрей Баклан via Pixabay)

Lithium-ion batteries could be under threat after the development of polymer materials by the universities of Surrey and Bristol, along with Superdielectrics Ltd., that could challenge the dominance of these traditional batteries.

Only one year ago, the partners announced scientific results for novel polymer materials that have dielectric properties 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than existing electrolytes (electrical conductors). These stunning scientific findings have now been converted into “device”-scale technical demonstrations.

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Researchers from the universities achieved practical capacitance values of up to 4F/cm² on smooth low-cost metal foil electrodes. Existing supercapacitors on the market typically reach 0.3F/cm², depending upon complex extended surface electrodes.

More significantly, the researchers managed to achieve results of 11-20F/cm² when the polymers were used with specially treated stainless-steel electrodes — the details of which are being kept private pending a patent application.

If these values of capacitance can be achieved in production, it could potentially see supercapacitors achieving energy densities of up to 180whr/kg — greater than lithium-ion batteries.

Supercapacity batteries

Supercapacitors store energy using electrodes and electrolytes, and both charge and deliver energy quickly — conventional batteries perform the same task in a much slower, more sustained way. Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles.

However, because existing supercapacitors have poor energy density per kilogram (currently around one-twentieth of existing battery technology), they have been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage. Even with this restriction, supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but the current technology means that they need to stop to be recharged frequently (i.e. at almost every bus-stop).

The team of scientists has been able to test the new materials in two ways:

  • By using small single-layer cells charged to 1.5 volts for two to five minutes and then run demonstration devices, including a small fan.
  • By using a three-cell series stack that is able to be rapidly charged to five volts and operate an LED.

The University of Bristol is going much further by producing a complex series-parallel cell structure in which both the total capacitance and operating voltage can be separately controlled.

Based on these impressive results, Superdielectrics Ltd., the company behind this technology, is now looking to build a research and low-volume production center. If successful in production, the material could not only be used as a battery for future mobile devices, but could also be used in refueling stations for electric cars.

Dr. Brendan Howlin, Senior Lecturer in Computational Chemistry at the University of Surrey, said:

Dr. Donald Highgate, Director of Research for Superdielectrics Ltd and alumnus of the University of Surrey, said:

Dr. Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, commented:

Provided by: University of Surrey [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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