Ultracapacitors Could Change Everything

We’ve been skeptical about ultracapacitors. They are devices that could, theoretically, store electricity (expressed as kilowatts per kilogram) at ten or even twenty times the density that even the best batteries currently achieve.

Today, however, a blogger by the name of Michael Urlocker, of Northern Technology & Telecom Research, published on the superblog website AlwaysOn a post where he notes evidence that a startup funded by Kleiner Perkins could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Here is his evidence, based on an obscure regulatory filing dated Jan 19 by Feel Good Cars Corp., which has an exclusive on the technology for small cars:

Regulatory filings (search for Feel Good Cars Filing statement of jan 19, 2006):


Or an easier place is to go here, where Urlocker has compiled summary charts and downloads of the regulatory filings and other resources:

Urlocker’s findings indicate a car using these ultracapacitors could do the following:

  • 250-300 mile range
  • Half the price of conventional lead-acid batteries
  • One-tenth the volume, roughly one-tenth the weight
  • Less than one-hour charge time on household current
  • 3-6 min charge time from charging infrastructure

Up till now, the challenge to store electric power has been addressed, at least according to conventional “enlightened” wisdom, by throwing billions of dollars at fuel cells. The reality is even a lead-acid battery – taking economics into account alongside engineering – can store electricity more efficiently than hydrogen fuel cells.

A good lithium ion battery can now get up to 300 watt-hours per kilogram, much improved over the 100 watt-hours per kg that was used in Ford’s legendary EV-1 that could go over 100 miles on a charge and had a top speed of 180 MPH (no typo there). That car, with a 1,600 lb. battery pack, had limited applications, but it was an excellent vehicle for commuters, and they were cheap to produce.

A hydrogen fuel cell system (including hydrogen storage) can get perhaps 1,000 watt-hours per kilogram, enough theoretically to provide a viable range without the recharging headaches – but fuel cell membranes break, their catalysts degrade, and nobody’s figured out how to store the hydrogen. Moreover, they currently cost about $4,000 per kilowatt. By comparison, a standard internal combustion engine and gas tank can generate around 10,000 watt-hours per kilogram – something a functional ultracapacitor system might just approach.

The inevitability of 100% electricity powered cars is confirmed by the emergence not only of hybrids, but “strong” hybrids where the battery packs are augmented with extra batteries, and drivers use grid electricity to drive around instead of gasoline. And at $.10 per kilowatt-hour, that translates to around $.03 per mile! Is that disruptive?

If a breakthrough in ultra-capacitors is really going to happen, throw out the window any thoughts of a “hydrogen highway,” and prepare to see all electric cars dominate the roads using power directly from the grid. To learn more read The 100% Electric Car.

4 Responses to “Ultracapacitors Could Change Everything”
  1. Interesting Article!

    One Correction: EV-1 was manufactured by General Motors, not Ford.

    Also, you could find interesting reading about “Green Electricity (GEL) Initiative” addressing Ultra-Capacitors and alternative power sources: http://www.alexanderbell.us/Initiative/GEL.htm

  2. Ed says:

    You are correct. My apologies. GM did the EV-1, Ford did the Model T. They are both such harbingers of automotive revolutions that I confused the makers.

  3. Hi Ed:

    Thanks for your kind attention and prompt response.

    Also, I would strongly AGREE with the opening statement of your article, that Ultra-Capacitors can change everything. This probably will be the “Next Big Techno thing” of the first decade of XXI Century.

    BTW, almost 10 years ago I have published an article: “Single capacitor powers audio mixer” in EDN Magazine, describing the commercial grade Audio mixer powered by SuperCap™ and received the “Best Design Idea” award, based on the reader’s popularity vote.

    Later the core idea of replacing the Batteries with multi-Farad Capacitors (hecto- and kilo-Farads are commercially available now) plus using alternative energy (e.g., muscle power) as primary power source became the conceptual umbrella of my “GEL Initiative”, now topping Google™ search list.


    Alex Bell

    PS. more details on this topic “Mobile Electricity: Battery-Free, renewable, clean” are available at my online publication: http://www.alexanderbell.us/Project/GreenElectricity.htm

  4. Brian says:

    This article suggests that ultra caps by nature have a very high energy density. This just is not true. There are ultra caps on the market today which have a high POWER density, but terrible energy density (much lower than even lead-acid batteries). What needs to be stressed more is the break-through nature of this new technology, and that the break through is getting ultra caps to store this large amount of energy.


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