With super and ultra capacitors and EEStor still far too expensive, not available if not simply vapor – capacitors need something to perk up the storage market.

Dr.  Xie Xian Ning from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Initiative has developed the world’s first energy-storage membrane promising greater cost-effectiveness in delivering energy.

The researchers used a polystyrene-based polymer to deposit the soft, foldable membrane that, when sandwiched between and charged by two metal plates, could store charge at 0.2 farads per square centimeter. This is well above the typical upper limit of 1 microfarad per square centimeter for a standard capacitor.  That’s coming from 0.000001 to 0.2 – a lot more than a doubling.  The question is then raised why isn’t the idea a super or ultra capacitor?

Polystyrene Based Energy Storage Membrane. Click image for the largest view. Image Credit: Credit: National University of Singapore.

The membrane is a part of a capacitor, not a whole, offering many designs a huge improvement.  Most simply said, polystyrene membrane-based membranes will be easier to scale up than the current alternatives. Unlike more conventional supercapacitor electrode materials with large surface areas and high porosities, the new hydrophilized polymer network uses ion-conducting channels for fast ion transport and charge storage.

The cost involved in energy storage is also drastically reduced. With existing technologies based on liquid electrolytes, it costs about US$7 to store each farad. With the NUS energy storage membrane, the cost to store each farad falls to an impressive US$0.62 – less than 10% of current costs.  This translates to an energy cost of 10-20 watt-hour per US dollar for the membrane, as compared to just 2.5 watt-hour per US dollar for lithium ion batteries.

Now the NUS capacitor membrane is looking like a big deal.

Dr Xie said: “Compared to rechargeable batteries and supercapacitors, the proprietary membrane allows for very simple device configuration and low fabrication cost. Moreover, the performance of the membrane surpasses those of rechargeable batteries, such as lithium ion and lead-acid batteries, and supercapacitors.”

Dr Xie and his team started work on the membrane early last year and took about 1.5 years to reach their current status, and have successfully filed a US patent for this novel invention.

The discovery was featured in Energy & Environmental Science and highlighted by the international journal Nature.  The research paper, “Supercapacitive Energy Storage Based On Ion-Conducting Channels in Hydrophilized Organic Network” has been published in Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics.

The research team has demonstrated the membrane’s superior performance in energy storage using prototype devices. The team is currently exploring opportunities to work with venture capitalists to commercialize the membrane. So far reports have it several venture capitalists have expressed strong interest in the technology.

“With the advent of our novel membrane, energy storage technology will be more accessible, affordable, and producible on a large scale. It is also environmentally-friendly and could change the current status of energy technology,” Dr Xie said.

The technology looks really good. Lets hope the commercial scale up works out and the natural greed leads to massive licensing in the high volume production route to wealth.


5 Comments so far

  1. Tadeusz Maydell on October 3, 2011 7:37 AM

    Capacitor does not store Farads but Coulombs. It would be nice to know more about the new membrane material from technically literate source.
    Impressive news nevertheless.

  2. Tadeusz Maydell on October 3, 2011 7:44 AM

    May I take my comment back? 😉
    On second reading I realized that there is nothing wrong with information.
    This invention may go quite far if will ever reach the market.

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