Supercapacitor innovation promises panel-powered cars

November 10, 2014 // By Paul Buckley
A team of researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have developed lightweight supercapacitors that can be combined with regular batteries to boost the power of an electric car by using the car's body panels.

The supercapacitors - a 'sandwich' of electrolyte between two all-carbon electrodes - were made into a thin and strong film with a high power density.

The film could be embedded in a car's body panels, roof, doors, bonnet and floor - storing enough energy to turbocharge an electric car's battery in just a few minutes.

The discovery was made by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Jinzhang Liu, Professor Nunzio Motta and PhD researcher Marco Notarianni, from QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty - Institute for Future Environments, and PhD researcher Francesca Mirri and Professor Matteo Pasquali, from Rice University in Houston, in the United States.

The findings, published in the Journal of Power Sources and the Nanotechnology journal, mean a car partly powered by its own body panels could be a reality within five years, suggested Notarianni.

"Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but they are able to deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries," explained Notarianni. "Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared to several hours for a standard electric car battery."

Dr Liu said currently the 'energy density' of a supercapacitor is lower than a standard lithium ion (Li-ion) battery, but its 'high power density', or ability to release power in a short time, is 'far beyond' a conventional battery.

"Supercapacitors are presently combined with standard Li-ion batteries to power electric cars, with a substantial weight reduction and increase in performance," said Dr Liu. "In the future, it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than a Li-ion battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster - meaning the car could be entirely powered by the supercapacitors in