Supercapacitors and the electric vehicle

Capacitors are a critical component to most electrical devices. They’re especially important for devices that run off of battery power. They are a major part of our modern day to day lives, even though most of us don’t know anything about them!

Capacitors are usually very small. They’re especially tiny when they are intended for use in audio components, computers, or other microelectronic devices. They have the ability to store energy (usually for a limited amount of time) but aren’t exactly batteries.

Capacitors have been around for decades and are a fundamental part of electronics and electronic devices. It would be almost impossible to create most of the modern technology we use on a day-to-day basis without capacitors on board. We’d still be stuck using vacuum tubes and other inefficient solutions. All of our pocket-sized devices would be much, much larger.

Supercapacitors though are like regular capacitors on steroids.

supercapacitors can discharge fast.

Vehicle powered by supercapacitors.

What exactly are supercapacitors, anyway?

Supercapacitors are capacitors that are capable of storing a tremendous amount of energy. They can also be charged almost instantaneously. They can go from completely depleted to completely recharged in the blink of an eye. This is due to the fact that they have such a low level of internal resistance.

At the same time, that means that they are just as easy to completely discharge faster than you would have ever thought possible. This can be a problem for engineers that do not account for the “exchange rate” of energy. The last thing that you want to do is overload an electronic circuit with too much energy because someone forgot just how quickly these capacitors can deplete.

These capacitors are currently capable of storing anywhere between 10 and 100 times more energy than traditional capacitors. They’re also accepting and discharging energy 10 to 100 times faster than traditional batteries. Supercapacitors have quickly become the “gold standard” for a number of advanced technologies. One area where they look to have a bright future is usage in electric vehicles.

Elon Musk himself is a big believer and a pioneer in the field of supercapacitors. He truly believes it is the future of renewable energy. A number of patents for the Tesla Model S vehicles (and all future Tesla vehicles) show the use of supercapacitors acting as the major power plant. Those vehicles were initially designed to be powered by supercapacitors as opposed to traditional batteries, and it’s easy to see why.

capacitors lightening

Some say that harvesting lightening is possible with these capacitors.

An exciting solution for electric vehicles

Batteries are the biggest problem that electric vehicles face. They are the reason that EVs haven’t quickly established themselves as the “next big thing” in the automobile industry. This is why they haven’t truly threatened traditional vehicles with extinction. The battery technology responsible for 100% electric cars hasn’t advanced quite as quickly as most people had expected it to.

Traditional batteries have definitely become more efficient in the last 20 years than they ever were in the past. They are still ridiculously inefficient compared to what is required of them as the backbone of a fully electric vehicle though. They just don’t have the charging or discharging capacity necessary to keep up with traditional fuel sources and the ease and convenience of gasoline or diesel refueling.

Thanks to the introduction of supercapacitors (and the innovation of this already exciting technology), things are starting to change. Musk and his team of engineers in particular are playing around with creating even more efficient and quick bridging/discharging supercapacitors. This is in hopes of finally creating a power plant for electric vehicles that can rival traditional automobiles.

large capacitors

This is what a bank of automotive capacitors looks like.

Supercapacitors in future electric vehicles

Many believe that supercapacitors are the key to creating a world full of electric vehicles. Because they are so effortless and so quick to charge from completely depleted, one day it might be possible to pull up to an electric “gas” station, plug your completely electric vehicle into the pump, and have the battery refreshed from 0 to 100% full in five minutes or less. Then you could be on your way across the country just like you would have in a “normal” car.

Now, those days are still quite a ways away – but they are much closer today thanks to the power and capacity of supercapacitors. It’s only going to be a matter of time until we put all the pieces of this puzzle together!

With Elon Musk being such a huge supporter of this technology, it’s almost certain that it will play a role in the future of electric vehicles. Tesla motors have completely changed the electric vehicle landscape. I’m sure they have more tricks up their sleeves. Most likely one of their future moves will be to attempt to transition to supercapacitors and get away from traditional EV batteries. A move like that would certainly assure that they remain the top electric car company in the world.

Filed in: Electric Vehicles
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