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Hybrid ultracapacitors enhance battery tech

Posted: 17 Aug 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:battery  hybrid  ultracapacitors 

Ioxus Inc. defines a new distributed-energy architecture that promises to close the gap between semiconductor technology and battery technology, which has traditionally lagged behind semiconductors due to its dependence on unchangeable chemical reactions.

Instead of storing charge in a main battery—then doling it out to individual devices on demand—Ioxus' new breed of hybrid capacitor/battery claims to solve the "battery problem" by storing just enough energy for an adjacent device for its exclusive use.

"We have people using our hybrid ultracapacitors for all types of applications that were challenging for traditional battery architectures," said Ioxus co-founder and vice president Chad Hall. "When you need short-term or back-up power, we provide a device that satisfies those needs without all problems associated with traditional batteries."

Applications for the technology range from simple to complex. For instance, a simple torch using a hybrid ultracapacitor can be charged in just 20 seconds, then used for up to 2 hours, according to Hall. And a complex regenerative braking system on an automobile can instead use a hybrid ultracapacitor that charges every time you brake and stop, then simply restarts the car when you hit the gas—eliminating all the pollution caused by stop-and-start traffic, he said.

Automotive applications allow hybrid capacitors to be economically distributed around a vehicle, storing short-term energy where it is needed for powering LEDs, on-board computers, power windows, power door-locks and security systems. In the event of a total failure—or even removal—of the main car battery, all hybrid ultracapacitor powered systems will still work. Ioxus estimates that electric vehicles making use of distributed hybrid ultracapacitors rather than relying solely on a centralized battery can cut 9 to 14kg off their weight.

A handful of other makers claim to have similar hybrid ultracapacitors to Ioxus', but none has duplicated its unique combination of features. For instance, Evans Capacitor Co. has a higher-voltage lower-energy hybrid capacitor that is more akin to an ultracapacitor alone than Ioxus' hybrid ultracapacitors. JM Energy Corp. has a "lithium-ion capacitor" that is more akin to a lithium-ion battery than Ioxus' hybrid ultracapacitor. Ioxus, however, claims to have intellectual property that makes its approach work better than Evans' and be safer than JM Energy's.

How does it work?
Ioxus' hybrid ultracapacitors combine the architecture of a capacitor—charge accumulating on plates separated by an insulator—with the chemical storage of a lithium-ion battery. Using the same chemistry as a lithium-ion battery, the hybrid ultracapacitor distributes those chemicals onto the surface of a solid electrode, rather than embed the chemicals into a porous electrode where the slow process of intercalation is required to charge and discharge them.

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