An economic slowdown has a way of focusing attention. The ultracapacitor or supercapacitor field is a growing one for an important reason. The carbon tax, or “carbon cap and trade” to throw off the unthoughtful, is having an impact on long term planning. The Obama administration has floated income to the government of $600 billion dollars, which approximates the imported oil bill of last year (2008). The press and media in their ill-informed way just blows that off, trained over the past few months by trillion dollar and hundred billion dollar bailouts. However the carbon money machine works out for government it’s going to cost the economy dearly. Thus electrifying, meaning storage and non-carbon production sources are going to get a giant advantage.

Capacitors labeled as ‘ultra and super” are getting more market traction. Last Sunday took a stab at explaining the doubts surrounding EEStor with a political slant that surely will raise some eyebrows. Just what happens on the EEStor front is a fascinating story that is still building and if the suppositions about possible government secrecy orders keeping the patents in secret mode have credence, well, the story is just getting started.

Last week we looked at Reticle Carbon’s elegantly simple technology, and over the past couple of years we’ve seen several posts on capacitor innovations and progress.

Energy Density Power Density. Click image for more.

Energy Density Power Density. Click image for more.

The graph above lifted from Brian Wang’s site illustrates the convergence of the characteristics of energy density and power density with the main technologies plotted for comparison. Some technologies are getting into the top zones of both measures. More are to come.

It looks great to see the battery field get better power density and capacitors to add energy density. The topic today is about that new nanocapacitor running off the graph’s scale. Where it will fit in the coming years if getting to scale can be done at economically competitive costs is another fascinating story. EEStor who has a lead and Reticle who could gain a market presence very quickly as both will gain scale and industrial volume mass production in the near term are going to set sales prices on a declining trend. Scale and mass production should set an ever-lower cost basis for new technology to be competitive.

Sang Bok Lee, a chemistry professor, and Gary Rubloff, a professor of engineering and director of the Maryland NanoCenter, has created nanostructured arrays of electrostatic capacitors.

Using new processes central to nanotechnology, the process creates millions of identical nanostructures with shapes tailored to transport energy as electrons rapidly to and from very large surface areas where they are stored. The Maryland researchers exploit unusual combinations of these behaviors (called self-assembly, self-limiting reaction, and self-alignment) to construct millions –and ultimately billions – of tiny, virtually identical nanostructures to receive, store, and deliver electrical energy.

Rubloff said, “These devices exploit unique combinations of materials, processes, and structures to optimize both energy and power density—combinations that, taken together, have real promise for building a viable next-generation technology, and around it, a vital new sector of the technology economy. The goal for electrical energy storage systems is to simultaneously achieve high power and high energy density to enable the devices to hold large amounts of energy, to deliver that energy at high power, and to recharge rapidly (the complement to high power).”

Marylands Nanocapacitor. Click image for more info.

Marylands Nanocapacitor. Click image for more info.

Their approach to make such devices is building multilayer structures of large area inside the open volume of a nanostructured template. They have their paper reporting the use of atomic layer deposition to fabricate arrays of metal–insulator–metal nanocapacitors in anodic aluminum oxide nanopores published at Nature Nanotechnology.

The fundamental performance advantage is the prototype actually has 10 billion tiny capacitors, each just 50 nanometres across, crammed into every square millimeter. Electrodes connect up the mini devices so they can function as a single unit. The construction of the prototype starts with the creation of such small capacitors by anodising – adding a surface layer of oxide on a sheet of aluminum foil applied to a substrate – creating a regularly spaced array of nanopores across its surface. Then each pore is filled with three nested, concentric layers of material that function as the conventional conductor-insulator-conductor arrangement of a capacitor. The conducting layers are made from titanium nitride, and the insulating layer from aluminum oxide are laid down with Rubloff’s highly precise way of depositing nanoscale structures called atomic layer deposition.

The prototype delivers energy at a rate typical of electrostatic capacitors that at scale is a rate that would allow a single kilogram to deliver one megawatt of power, enough to power 10,000 100-watt light bulbs. It would also store energy as densely as a supercapacitor, with 1 kg holding 2500 joules. These are the numbers that push the new device to the top right of the scale above.

Here again the technology’s payoff is from a vastly increased surface area to store the electrons. Lee and Rubloff both know there are major development issues to get to scales that would have market applications. Other scientists have had a look at the work and offer, such as Robert Hebner, director of the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas at Austin that the connection issue is a problem that isn’t intractable noting that there are devices on the market today that have solved connectivity problems.

There is no doubt that the market for electricity storage is going to explode. Yet the costs, weights, dimensions and other factors such as practical charging systems are going to have prime effects on which technologies succeed. A few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars for a vehicle or residential or commercial or even industrial storage is going to matter enormously. But the market isn’t well known today, the value added from very light weight or small dimensions will be considerations in things like personal gear carried in a pocket to value added where raw installed cost and capacity matter most such as grid balancing storage.

There is a lot of market between and for each product the characteristics will need to match the consumers’ demands. Most of all – all of them will have to be more inexpensive, much more so than today.


7 Comments so far

  1. Tadeusz Maydell on March 20, 2009 9:12 AM

    It is stated:
    … with 1 kg holding 2500 joules. These are the numbers that push the new device to the top right of the scale above.

    Just an observation:
    2500J = 0.69444 Wh

    How this amounts to “top right of the scale” ?

  2. Anonymous on April 20, 2009 5:38 AM

    1 Joule = 0.277 Watt hour
    2500 Joule = 693 Watt hour

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  4. Tadeusz Maydell on October 5, 2009 1:29 PM

    Relations of units in Physics are not negotiable.

    so 3600[J]=1[Wh]
    therefore 2500[J] = 0.69444[Wh]

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