"Battery-like device", a.k.a. ultracapatitor...plausible?

Was reading this article on CNN about a possible breakthrough technology in electrical powered devices and thought I’d see how possible/plausible it is. The article itself seems to walk a tightrope between being wided eyed and skeptical.

What do you think? Another hoax? Delusion? Or maybe the first steps on the path towards a revolutionary new electrically powered personal transport powered world (‘many other functions’)?


Let’s assume that they have an energy-storage device that stores as much energy in the same volume as a tank of gasoline, and gives electricity to drive the motors of an electric car.

The real problem then becomes transferring energy to the storage device.

I have read that, when you fill up a gas tank, you are transferring chemical energy into it at a rate of something like 2 megawatts.

If the company is proposing to refill its storage devices at the same rate, either they’re swapping discharged contents for charged contents (which implies a totally new infrastructure at and behind each ‘fueling’ station to handle the contents and recharge them)… or, it’s proposing to pump electricity into them at a rate of megawatts, which implies a Really Big Plug, at the least, plus new electrical infrastructure.

:: reads article ::

Okay, they’re talking about ultracapacitors.

Hope the’re robust and can handle the bangs and jiggles of life on the road… and that their leakage rate is low. But to recharge them in a reasonable amount of time is going to require the Really Big Plugs I mentioned.

Mind you, even smaller ultracaps might be very useful. I’m thinking laptop batteries here…

AFAIK, such a concept is not in the realm of the paranormal or impossible, surely. But it looks like this company is taking a route similar to Steorn’s, of looking for investors before producing anything that actually works. While that may be the road to riches, it is rarely the road to scientific breakthroughs.

In case anyone doesn’t know and are interested, here is a wiki article on supercapacitor/ultracapacitors:


I hope it really works. It would have a lot of implications beyond cars – it might make blackout-vulnerable, energy-leaking power lines and power grids and central power distribution systems obsolete. It might even make electrial outlets obsolete – every light bulb and appliance in your home could run off its own EESTor capacitor. (See Heinlein’s novel Friday for the revolutionary applications of a superbattery called the “Shipstone.”) But I note in the linked article that experts in the field are skeptical.

The patent was filed six years ago. I think that if they had anything real we’d have heard more about it by now. Six years is a lot of development time.

Is it? I don’t really know to be honest. I wonder if there are any patents on possible fusion technology kicking around out there.
Its probably a load, but I thought I’d ask here and see anyway. Would be nice if it were true…which is probably why its not.


Ultracapacitors are all about surface area. If you had a way to fill a tub with hollow carbon nanotubes, and utilize all that surface area, you might be able to store a very large charge. It’s making the device practical that’s difficult.

Well, you can patent an actual breakthrough technology, or you can patent what you think might be a breakthrough technology, and then try to realize it for six years. Eestor appears to have done the later, and lots of things that might be wonderful never come to pass.

I’ve seen articles on EEStor making promises from early 2006 saying it’s juuuust around the corner.

I’ll put this in my “show me it when it works” file.

Sometimes stuff gets patented that there is no way in hell we can manufacture it. Magnetic vortex wormhole generator or if you prefer here is the pdf of the patent.

Wow! The doubletalk quotient in that write-up was off the charts!

In related news, a group of scientists at UCLA claim to have achieved cold fusion. But don’t get too excited.

Also reported in the CSM, which actually ended the story with:


That was two years ago, and I don’t recall seeing anything about it since.

I’ve toyed with the idea of taking one issue of Popular Science and writing a sci-fi story set 20 years in the future that assumes every single blurb came true.

Pulling a random issue from the shelf, I see an item about a robotic plane fly over the Martian surface, computers that correctly interpret vague voice commands and, amusingly enough, a few paragraphs about an ultra-capacitor replacement for the battery of a Ford pickup. All from March, 1998.

Cool, I can power my flying car with it :rolleyes:

This was a crucial component of Steorn’s Orbo, which must be what’s causing the delay…

It’s more than just surface area. In addition to that, capacity is also determined by plate separation distance. The closer you can get them, the higher the capacitance. The problem with that is that as your separation distance becomes smaller (and, necessarily, the thickness of the dielectric separating them) the voltage you can apply shrinks. Since the total energy a capacitor can store depends on charge AND voltage, there are some limits on how small you can make a capacitor to hold a given amount of energy. Maybe if I’m bored later I’ll work out how much energy it would take to drive a car 500 miles and how large a cap would be required to store that much. I suspect with current technology and materials it would wind up being MUCH larger than the car itself.

Heinlein talked about this kind of tech in his novel Friday.

Well, to quote a famous SDMB contributor, “No Shit”.

The plate separation of an ultracapacitor is unlikely to improve very much, since it is determined by the thickness of an electrolytic oxide. However, there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in the surface area department.

One critical assessment points out that charging an ultracapacitor like that would require 750 KW service, which maybe the power transmission lines have, but households do not.

If this is more than vaporware then the best case is that it leaves open the possibility of special charging stations on interstates to address the range limitations of pure BEVs going cross-country. Charge at home would need to be by some special device that loaded its charge slowly, say during off-peak hrs, and then dumped it in before use.

Me? I’m buying the Li battery stocks (CBAK especially - they’re A123’s main sub, and ABAT and as part of their business JCI) and not fretting that if EESTOR comes through these companies are history.

Sometimes things too good to be true are too good to be true.