Making Batteries Better With Ultracapacitors

Batteries alone cannot do it all.

Most modern-day applications can benefit from the use of both batteries and ultracapacitors. “Ultracapacitors, or supercapacitors as they’re sometimes called, make batteries better” is how we say it at Maxwell.

You wouldn’t choose to drive a nail with a screwdriver, so why choose to supply high power to an application with a battery? Sure, if you had a big enough screwdriver, you could probably drive that nail with it. But you wouldn’t want to pay for such a screwdriver and likewise, you wouldn’t want to haul it around in your tool belt.

Maxwell has been approached by a number of battery makers that realize their batteries alone cannot optimally solve the world’s energy storage and power delivery problems. Batteries are great solutions, but are not perfect. They have short lifetimes, don’t perform well at low temperatures, and, most importantly, don’t have strong power performance. You can’t re-invent physics.

The best solution may not be exclusively one solution; ultracapacitors and batteries together can best solve the problems facing society in the field of energy storage. Together, the technologies are stronger than either one alone, and together, ultracapacitor and battery companies are stronger than either alone.

So let’s get on with problem solving as a team in a collaborative effort and improve the world of energy storage and power delivery.

7 comments on “Making Batteries Better With Ultracapacitors

  1. D Feucht
    February 5, 2014

    Ultracapacitors, or double-layer capacitors as they are also sometimes more descriptively called, are even more optimal when used with long-neglected nickel-iron (NiFe) batteries. The shortcomings of many kinds  of batteries, as stated in the article,

    “Batteries are great solutions, but are not perfect. They have short lifetimes, don't perform well at low temperatures, and, most importantly, don't have strong power performance.”

    do not apply as much to NiFe batteries. They have long (decades) lifetimes, are insensitive to over- and undercharging, are not affected too much by temperature, and have a reasonably high energy density and specific energy. The only problem with such batteries is that they do not need replacement! Consequently, the large lead-acid battery manufacturer in the US who bought out the old Edison NiFe battery line promptly discontinued them. Now we must go to China (where there are at least three manufacturers) to obtain NiFe batteries.

    NiFe batteries are particularly well-suited for being paralleled by ultracapacitors because what gives them the above-named advantages also causes chemical reaction rates to be slower than in lead-acid batteries, and they consequently cannot deliver transient surges of current as well. Ultracapacitors can complement NiFe by providing transient currents until the NiFe batteries can catch up.


  2. Netcrawl
    February 6, 2014

    D Feucht, NiFe batteries is a very robust battery, which is tolerant of abuse like overcharging, short-ciruiting, high temperature and overdischarge, its often used as backup when it can be continously charged and can last for years. It has huge potential, ideal for clean energy storage for renewable energy systems. 

    I think the main reason for NiFe's disappearance in the North America market is largely due to Exide's decision to abandon the technology after acquiring it from Edison Storage Battery Company, the reason for abandoning the technology is still unknown, it still a mystery. Exide Corporation still a major player in the market, it still the world's second largest manufacturer of lead acid batteries.

  3. samicksha
    February 6, 2014

     An capacitor with higher efficiency, I may not sound wrong if i say they can also be described as mechanical batteries, due to their similarities to chemical batteries.

  4. RedDerek
    February 6, 2014

    A few years back I remember reading an article for electric vehicles. Problems with most is that the battery cannot deliver the current as fast as capacitors (shown by your diagram). However, with the combination of capacitors and batteries, one can have the fast acceleration using the capacitors to supplement the batteries.

    I believe it was Tesla that incorporated this approach.

  5. eafpres
    February 6, 2014

    Hi Mike–thanks for the brief writeup.  Many technologies which “didn't make it” may have a new life in the coming decades as need and new materials and procsses re-open closed doors.

    One thing that popped into my head reading your article is that for many, many people a battery is a relatvely benign thing that is useful, you don't have to pay much attention to it, and generally doesn't harm you.

    However, with many advances in batteries and finding them in applications like EVs, in aircraft, and perhaps as grid storage, these large capacity (in A*h) systems have shown that newer, super batteries are not as benign and safe as things many are used to.

    In the case of hybrid batteries as you describe, which I do see gaining traction in various markets, the high current delivery abilty of the capacitors presents a new hazard in the event of some failures and/or mistakes.  A stuck solenoid could now cause a small explosion or a fire, a misplaced wrench, already spectacularly dangerous with lead acid, becomes a pyrotechnic show when enough caps are added.

    Have your design teams looked at new safety issues and are there any special considerations in the design phase of the hybrid batteries for these reaons?

    Thanks again for the writeup.

  6. thomasinaz
    February 7, 2014

    There are several suppliers here in the U.S. China as the only supplier is a misconception. 

    Here is one link but a quick google search i very informative.

    I've spoken with one manufactor and prices, capacities are very resonablie.

  7. yalanand
    November 27, 2014

    The best solution may not be exclusively one solution; ultracapacitors and batteries together can best solve the problems facing society in the field of energy storage.

    @Mike, how much performance improvement do we get if we bring together ultracapacitor and batteries ?

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