New architecture promises better battery

August 12, 2011 // By R. Colin Johnson
A change in architecture is promising to close the gap between semiconductor technology and battery technology, which has traditionally lagged behind semiconductors due to its dependence on unchangeable chemical reactions.

Instead of storing charge in a main battery—then doling it out to individual devices on demand—a new breed of hybrid capacitor/battery is storing just enough energy for an adjacent device for its exclusive use. Ioxus Inc., (Oneonta, N.Y.) says it is solving the "battery problem" by defining a new distributed-energy architecture.

"We have people using our hybrid ultra-capacitors for all types of applications that were challenging for traditional battery architectures," said Ioxus co-founder and Vice President Chad Hall. "When you need short-term or back-up power, we provide a device that satisfies those needs without all problems associated with traditional batteries."

Applications for the technology range from simple to complex. For instance, a simple flashlight using a hybrid ultra-capacitor can be charged in just 20 seconds, then used for up to two hours, according to Hall. And a complex regenerative braking system on an automobile can instead use a hybrid ultra-capacitor that charges every time you brake and stop, then simply restarts the car when you hit the gas--eliminating all the pollution caused by stop-and-start traffic, he said.

Automotive applications allow hybrid capacitors to be economically distributed around a vehicle, storing short-term energy where it is needed for powering LEDs, on-board computers, power windows, power door-locks and security systems. And in the event of a total failure—or even removal—of the main car battery, all hybrid ultra-capacitor powered systems will still work. Plus Ioxus estimates that electric vehicles making use of distributed hybrid ultra-capacitors rather than relying solely on a centralized battery can cut 20-to-30 pounds off their weight.

A handful of other makers claim to have similar hybrid ultra-capacitors to Ioxus', but none has duplicated its unique combination of features. For instance, Evans Capacitor Co., (East Providence, R.I.) has a higher-voltage lower-energy hybrid capacitor that is more akin to an ultra-capacitor alone than Ioxus' hybrid ultra-capacitors. And JM Energy Corp. (Yamanashi, Japan) has a "lithium-ion capacitor" that is more akin to