Advanced ultracapacitors power a revolution in energy storage
The most advanced ultracapacitors in the world are now being manufactured on an industrial scale and deployed commercially thanks to an EU-funded project, providing potent, reliable and fast-charging energy-storage solutions for renewable power grids and electric vehicles.
© petovarga #193242608, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Decarbonisation of the economy and the transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and electric vehicles is essential to mitigating climate change and protecting the planet for future generations. Ultracapacitors have a key role to play in that transition.
Unlike traditional batteries, ultracapacitors store energy in an electric field, rather than in a chemical reaction, enabling them to charge and discharge much more quickly than batteries, providing short, intense bursts of power. These cells can provide more than 100 times the power density of today’s battery technologies over more than a million life cycles far more than the approximately 5 000 cycles the best battery can be expected to last for.
To advance this technology and boost the transition to more sustainable energy provision, the EU-funded SKLCARBONP2 project, which is financed by the SME Instrument strand of the European Innovation Council, has helped drive the development of ultracapacitors based on a patented curved graphene material.
‘In grid applications, ultracapacitors save considerable energy by being part of the energy-storage solution and improving the current delivery. They are the fastest-reacting components in an electrical system and save the hard work from the other components, such as batteries and back-up generators, in the storage chain,’ says project spokesperson Olivier Chabilan, product marketing manager at Estonian SME Skeleton Technologies.
Commercial success story
Compared to traditional carbon-based ultracapacitors, Skeleton Technologies’ curved graphene devices deliver a twofold increase in energy density and a sevenfold increase in power density, operate at close to 100 % efficiency and can be recharged in seconds.
They are rapidly becoming one of the first major commercial success stories for graphene, a revolutionary nanomaterial discovered in 2004. The ultracapacitors have progressed from a breakthrough energy-storage technology to a range of products now being manufactured on an industrial scale and distributed worldwide
Since 2018, for example, these ultracapacitors have been ensuring current quality, saving energy and reducing the load on back-up batteries across the grid on the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, which is now powered entirely from renewable sources.
The company’s ultracapacitors are also used in hybrid trucks, cranes and buses and may even incorporated in satellites in the future, amid plans to expand automotive and industrial applications worldwide.
Transitioning to renewable power
‘Ultracapacitors can increase the range of electric vehicles by 10 % and battery lifetime by 50 %. With the energy density increases likely to happen in the near future, it will be possible to drive for 10 or maybe 15 kilometres on ultracapacitors alone, with a charge time of a few seconds for those kilometres,’ says Chabilan. ‘We will soon make available a higher-energy-density cell, and at the end of this year we expect to complete work on a game-changer cell that will dramatically increase capacity even further.’
Up to 4 million ultracapacitor cells are produced each year at Skeleton Technologies’ factory in Germany the largest of its kind in Europe.
‘A direct impact of the initial EUR 2.5 million from the EU’s SME Instrument for developing curved graphene in SKLCARBONP2 was the unlocking of EUR 46 million of financing,’ Chabilan adds. ‘This enabled the scaling-up in the European ecosystem, and the development of industrial-scale manufacturing to bring this pioneering energy-storage technology to market.’
Furthermore, the company received a EUR 15 million loan to continue its R&D from the European Investment Bank, backed by the EU budget guarantee under the Investment Plan for Europe.