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.