Advertisement

Blog

What Competes With Ultracapacitors?

Ultracapacitor manufacturers that have commercialized the technology find themselves in a constant competitive environment in which consumers weigh the pros and cons of various technologies to determine which one best suits their applications. Who do these manufacturers compete with for each and every energy storage installation?

Batteries are a main competitor of ultracapacitors. Poor or no low-temperature performance, poor cycling ability, short lifetime, high cost, and safety issues top the list of advanced batteries' weaknesses. The strength of these advanced batteries, of course, is high energy density. By comparison, ultracapacitors have minor safety considerations and in all other respects, do not have the weaknesses of batteries. As a matter of fact, these attributes actually fall into the strengths category for ultracaps. And don't forget, the high power of ultracaps cannot be beat. It is clear that ultracapacitors have a very short list of weaknesses: a single item (the safety concerns), which is subject to debate as a matter of degree. On the other hand, the list of advanced batteries' weaknesses is long and significant.

So what about traditional batteries, such as lead-acid? They have all the same weaknesses of advanced batteries, but without the high price tag. Again, we face a nasty list of weaknesses that consumers have lived with for more than 100 years!

Flywheels are another ultracap competitor. Flywheels' weaknesses include persistent maintenance requirements, high investment costs and safety issues. Flywheels have high energy density compared to ultracapacitors and can generate some power performance, but the list of weaknesses for flywheels is longer and more significant than for ultracaps.

How about asymmetric capacitive devices? These are decent competitors that give up some power and low-temperature performance compared to ultracapacitors. They also retain the maintenance-free, long life time, and low cost structure, which can be lower than that of ultracapacitors. Energy is generally higher than that of an ultracapacitor, but the cost of that energy density boost is the partial loss of performance that you would get in the most capable ultracapacitors.

Finally, there are the large-scale storage strategies like pumped hydro and compressed gas. Most applications cannot make these affordable strategies work. These strategies are geographically challenged, significantly limiting their application space and practicality as a long-term solution to most of today's energy storage challenges.

If not for their energy density, we might never see batteries again in any application. It is true that batteries are improving their weaknesses and costs are coming down. However, there's a long way to go and some weaknesses will never come off the list, unless new laws of physics are realized. The good news is that ultracapacitors make batteries better. Using these technologies together is a natural pairing. Those who take the plunge and do this commercially at scale stand to reap years of rewards and market share unmatched by anything in energy storage. (See Making Batteries Better With Ultracapacitors.)

So I am puzzled. Faced with an energy storage decision today, why would you deal with all of these weaknesses and risks when you don't have to? The obvious choice for energy storage has to be ultracapacitors, which should show up in every application (and have already been proven in many) around the globe. To do something different is to pass over the best solution for the application. I suspect such decisions are driven by factors such as fear, greed, or any other emotional decision-making criteria. And making technical decisions based on emotional criteria is not a recommended strategy for anyone. Ultracapacitors are not new products anymore. Mainstream broad deployments in high-visibility industries, such as hybrid buses and wind farms, are a testimony to their reliability and acceptance in industry. Risks are low and rewards are high for using this robust power delivery technology that pays off quickly and delivers for years.

27 comments on “What Competes With Ultracapacitors?

  1. Netcrawl
    October 26, 2014

    @Mike great post! thanks for that, energy storage for vehicles have especially demanding energy requirements because they must combine high power and energy density, cyclability, safetly and last low cost. I believe ultracacpcitors can help meet these requirements due to their high power density and excellent stability.

  2. ue2014
    October 27, 2014

    Very good article Mike. As you forecast, Ultracapacitors would be much better replacement for batteries. Specifically considering the safely factors, Ultracapacitors stands way front from batteries which is a very proven and valid point why it should be used.

  3. goafrit2
    October 27, 2014

    >>  thanks for that, energy storage for vehicles have especially demanding energy requirements because they must combine high power and energy density, cyclability, safetly and last low cost.

    That was what the nanotechnology storage devices were supposed to have solved if not that nanotech is still so much capabilities but few realities on ground

  4. chirshadblog
    October 28, 2014

    @goafrit2: Well the nano technology has a long way to go and it can be used in many different ways. Its always best to serve according to the requirement itself. 

  5. Netcrawl
    October 28, 2014

    @chirshadlbog Nanotechnologies provide the potential to enhance energy efficiencies across all branches of industry and to economically leverage renewable energy production through new technological solutions and optimized production technologies, it could contribute to the optimization of the layer design and the morphology of organic semiconductor mixtures in component structures.

  6. samicksha
    October 28, 2014

    I agree to author on better replacement for batteries and moreover i find them compatiable and capable towards green energy and specifically for electric vehicles.

  7. Nickel65
    October 29, 2014

    Coming from an industry which depends on back up storage batteries, I would be very pleased if Ultracapacitors were a viable alternative. However, at this present time in our industry they are not even close to being a possible option. I want the development to improve that one day they are competitive but at the moment they are so far off in our industry that switching to ultracapacitor seems impossible but perhaps one day this will improve.

    In our industry we use lead acid batteries with all their disadvantages. Our systems are usually required to be backed up for 24 hours (or more). For this we require a battery which is cost effective and have a a high energy storage.

    For a quick comparison:

    Maxwells BMD0500 16V capacitor module.

    Energy storage : 18 WHr

    Size : ~5 litre

    Density ~3.6 W / litre

    Cost (from Mouser) over $600 or over $30 per WHr

     

    Power sonic battery PS 1270

    Energy storage: 80 Whr ( more than four times that of the ultra capacitor)

    Size: ~1 litre ( 1/5 the size)

    Cost:  < $20  or less than 25c per WHr

     

    So the lead acid energy density is about 10:1 of that of the ultracapacitor and W/hr per $ about 100:1.  Of these the cost of ultracapacitors is probably the biggest hurdle to their more widespread use.

  8. Netcrawl
    October 30, 2014

    @Nickel for years, batteries have reigned supreme as the technology for storing electricity but with the recent development in design and manufacturing, I think there is another solution as old as battery, is competing for the leadership position in the storage space. Ultracapacitor offers huge advantages, they are extremely effcicient and compact, they can be charged and discharged rapidly for almost an unlimited number of times, and last they can operate in harsh condition.

    @Nickel I agree with you about Ultracapacitor, they are not even close to being a possible option, but I we're working on it and ultarcapcitors are getting too much attention these days. Ultracapacitors are now being used in vehicles for public transportation, from hybrid cars to hybrid gasoline-electric buses (Long Beach, California). We also see some big development coming from China, electric buses with ultracapcitors operate without power lines, theses buses are quickly recharged at each bus stop with electric umbrellas. In addition, ultracapacitors are also being used in power applications, in bridge power applications to maintain power while backup is restored and to maintain power quality during power surges and disruptive events.

  9. bjcoppa
    October 30, 2014

    Very few companies are generating products in this field. Maxwell is one of the leaders. In general, battery technology has limited the growth of solar power due to storage limitations. Since solar creates electricity during the day while the sun is shining, it needs to be stored efficiently at the utility scale. Often batteries for consumer electronics and automobiles do not even meet their warranty lifetime projections so ultracapacitors are an alternative once prices become more economically. It makes sense for ultracapacitors to focus on less cost sensitive industrial applications first.

  10. D Feucht
    October 30, 2014

    I agree. My application area is off-grid electric power, and I have watched for a convergence of battery and capacitor J/$ and they are still far apart.

    One battery technology that has none of the problems of lead-acid or other chemistries, yet is only somewhat higher in cost that lead-acid, is nickel-iron . When the NiFe battery works of Edison were bought out by a lead-acid battery maker, the NiFe line was cancelled, probably because of its lack of repeat business. NiFe batteries last a lifetime, can be discharged to 0 V and retain their life, be highly overcharged and not adversely affected. Their only big disadvantage for North Americans is that they are no longer made in the USA but manily in China, and also in Russia and Eastern Europe. They are available via global trade. Changhong is the leading Chinese source. There are one or two others, such as SEIDEN, in China.

  11. Nickel65
    October 30, 2014

    @D Feucht.  I had read about NiFe before. It seems a little strange there wasn't further development on NiFe batteries. Perhaps with more development it might be more prevalent and less expensive.

  12. Netcrawl
    October 31, 2014

    @D Feucht the convergence has led to the widepsread combination of the two in parallel, battery/ultracapacitors approach the performance of an ideal battery- something that can never be achieved alone because its chemical reactions cause movement. When paired together, Ultracapacitor helps the battery perform more efficiently, decreases fuel consumption and increases the hybrid-electric system's power density.

    A recent study conducted by Argonne National Laboratory concluded that combining ultracapacitor with a lithium-ion battery system in EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) decreases the wear on the battery and since EVs and PHEVs require more energy in the battery, they put more stress on batteries than other applications. If too much stress is placed on battery, the wear can increase and decrease the lifespan of the battery. By using ultracapacitor in parallel with battery systems, ultracapacitor can absorb the power peaks and evening out the energy demand, as a result the vehicle becomes more energy efficient and the lifespan of batteries increases.

  13. amrutah
    October 31, 2014

    @Nickel65,

    Thanks for the information.  The energy density and the cost nos. that you shared are really helpful understanding the present day battery technology.

       Do you have a info about any hybrid battery model (ultracapacitor and lead-acid battery).  Does something like that exists or can exist?

  14. amrutah
    October 31, 2014

    “…theses buses are quickly recharged at each bus stop with electric umbrellas.”

    @Netcrawl:  This is very interesting information.  Quick charging will lead to a peak current requirement how is this handled, the source needs to handle these kind of scenarios.   We would need large formfactor for the devices at the source in order to respond quickly.

  15. amrutah
    October 31, 2014

    @Everett: Thanks for sharing the post, very informative.

       I feel there are various other factors that needs to be figured before using the battery technology

      – Battery monitoring, fuel gauges.
    . – Source for battery charging and discharging (peak and constant current requirements).
      – form factor, weight.
      – Does it support wireless charging (I think this going to be there is most portable device now)

        Other than cost and energy density, Are there other factors that define the usage of the battery technology?

  16. PCR
    October 31, 2014

    Ue2014, yes it will be a good alternative but cost will be a barrier in the market.

  17. D Feucht
    October 31, 2014

    Your point is well-taken about paralleling capacitors with batteries. However, with batteries, the problems posed by batteries still remain. Then the question is which battery chemistry is best to use. For off-grid charge storage, I cannot find a better choice than NiFe. NiFe has two disadvantages over lead-acid:

    1) charging efficiency is less. In a time of reducing solar-panel costs, this is not so critical;

    2) Large transient currents cannot be pulled from NiFe batteries like they can from Pb-acid batteries, though they are nevertheless used as electric diesel train starting batteries.

    This second weakness is an opportunity for C-NiFe hybrid storage banks, especially if the capacitors are able to supply high transient currents.

  18. dassa.an
    October 31, 2014

    @ D Feucht: This may sound silly but cant we reduce the voltage levels? 

  19. goafrit2
    November 1, 2014

    Well the nano technology has a long way to go and it can be used in many different ways. Its always best to serve according to the requirement itself.

    I am yet to know why we are not seeing a lot of those products on Mouser, Digikey etc. Sure, technology will advance and I am sure they will make contributions in storage and other areas in the industry.

  20. goafrit2
    November 1, 2014

     Quick charging will lead to a peak current requirement how is this handled, the source needs to handle these kind of scenarios

    Your assumption is that the battery cell will remain the same. According to Tesla Elon Musk, youc an re-engineer the chemistry to enable quick charge in order to open a new dawn in electric vehicles.

  21. amrutah
    November 14, 2014

    @goafrit:  “According to Tesla Elon Musk, youc an re-engineer the chemistry to enable quick charge in order”

     Thanks.

         The charge/unit time will lead to large current as the time reduces.  That's what I am more worried about.  If I have to design a charger semiconductor solution, this is one big bottleneck (the pins won't be able to handle amps of current).

  22. Davidled
    November 14, 2014

    Pin and cable size could be depending on the size of ultra capacitors. Let us image battery size's ultra capacitor. More high power current might be feeding into ultra capacitor. For a charger semiconductor solution, a small charging circuit could be designed with a few CAP which would be controlled by circuit.

  23. Davidled
    November 14, 2014

    I would like to see if Ultracapacitor will be installed in the vehicle for auxiliary energy source instead of conventional battery or any type fuel cell. This energy could support gasoline type as well as hybrid type vehicle except pure Electric vehicle. That becomes it more popular.  

  24. Davidled
    November 18, 2014

    I think that basic science is very critical important every sector in the industry. Any innovative technology of a fundamental science drives human lifestyle a better life in most cases. Nanotechnology could be one of cases for Ultracapacitor as well as fabric product.

  25. goafrit2
    November 26, 2014

    >> If I have to design a charger semiconductor solution, this is one big bottleneck (the pins won't be able to handle amps of current).

    Absolutely especially when you are working on a monolithic design. But in some cases, you can use larger wires. If you are making cars as Elon Musk is doing, you can afford to use large wires as are used with battery heads in vehicles.

  26. goafrit2
    November 26, 2014

    >> I would like to see if Ultracapacitor will be installed in the vehicle for auxiliary energy source instead of conventional battery or any type fuel cell.

    Do that, join the Forbes' list of billionaires. You get smaller size and density and potentially pioneer different new sectors in NASCAR cars and electric vehicles.

  27. amrutah
    November 29, 2014

    “For a charger semiconductor solution, a small charging circuit could be designed with a few CAP which would be controlled by circuit.”

    @DaeJ

       As you suggested, the controlling circuit might be smaller but the huge amounts of charge transfer will call for more metal, more relaibility issues (less life span) for the chips, unless some high tolerant process is used.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.