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Silicon Supercapacitor Promises Built-in Energy Storage For Electronic Devices

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the throw-those-ions-in-a-suitcase dept.

Power 95

Science_afficionado writes "A news release from Vanderbilt University begins, 'Solar cells that produce electricity 24/7, not just when the sun is shining. Mobile phones with built-in power cells that recharge in seconds and work for weeks between charges. These are just two of the possibilities raised by a novel supercapacitor design invented by material scientists ... that is described in a paper published in the Oct. 22 issue of the journal Scientific Reports. It is the first supercapacitor that is made out of silicon so it can be built into a silicon chip along with the microelectronic circuitry that it powers. In fact, it should be possible to construct these power cells out of the excess silicon that exists in the current generation of solar cells, sensors, mobile phones and a variety of other electromechanical devices, providing a considerable cost savings. ... Instead of storing energy in chemical reactions the way batteries do, “supercaps” store electricity by assembling ions on the surface of a porous material. As a result, they tend to charge and discharge in minutes, instead of hours, and operate for a few million cycles, instead of a few thousand cycles like batteries.' The full academic paper is available online."

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Meh (4, Insightful)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 9 months ago | (#45217401)

Call me when a supercap has anything like the energy density - by any measure of cubic or weight - as a battery. Till then, they have only niche uses. I've seen various supercap articles that were about tech that was "About to change the world" for how many decades now? OK, sooner or later, they might...I'm still waiting, and I ain't gonna live for as many more decades as I've already been waiting. Till then, I'll drive my Volt.

Re:Meh (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217585)

You didn't leave us your number, you insensitive clod!

Re: Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217815)

Well, we could call out his name.

Re: Meh (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#45220507)

And he knows wherever we are, we'll come running

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45221729)

You mean that you want his static IP address, not his number.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45221767)

IP addresses ARE numbers, you insensitive cod!

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45223309)

IP addresses ARE numbers, you insensitive cod!

You obviously haven't moved to ipv6...

Re:Meh (1)

fisted (2295862) | about 9 months ago | (#45223707)

I totally wasn't aware that somewhere between 32 and 128 bits, numbers stop being numbers.
Thanks for clearing that up, much appreciated.

Re:Meh (1)

unixisc (2429386) | about 9 months ago | (#45223709)

Hexadecimal numbers ARE numbers, you insensitive clod!

Re:Meh (2, Interesting)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about 9 months ago | (#45217623)

Um, I'd think this would be a pretty big deal for computers. I'm not sure if you've looked lately, but the boards are covered in caps made of all kinds of materials, some rather rare. Direct integration with SSDs is the first major use I can see off the top of my head.

Re:Meh (2)

timeOday (582209) | about 9 months ago | (#45218049)

Beat me to it. I just junked a computer because the capacitors were all leaky and it wouldn't run stable any more. If the chips (CPU, RAM, etc) didn't need capacitors any more because they had the necessary capacitance built right in, and it was solid-state, I think that would be great. It's not like they need to hold huge amounts of energy for long periods either.

Re:Meh (2)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#45218341)

Not the same thing at all.

The process here is not to replace capacitors, the process it to replace the battery.
Capacitors in a circuit have an entirely different reason for being there than the battery. They are for very short term storage of potential or smoothing of power switching.

If this works, and if it acquires any further attention and attracts funding, it might replace batteries in phones, but it won't replace capacitors in circuits.
 

Re:Meh (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 9 months ago | (#45218605)

it might replace batteries in phones, but it won't replace capacitors in circuits.

Why not?

Re:Meh (2)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#45218647)

it might replace batteries in phones, but it won't replace capacitors in circuits.

Why not?

Well, I suppose it could, but that is not the focus of this research. What we use now in circuits is outrageously cheap, and fulfilling the need.

What we have now in battery technology is very expensive, and barely keeping up with demand.

Re:Meh (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 9 months ago | (#45220023)

it might replace batteries in phones, but it won't replace capacitors in circuits.

Why not?

Why not indeed. To effectively smooth power fluctuations in high frequency circuits, the capacitor should be as close as possible to the power consuming circuits. What could be closer than integrating the capacitor directly into the silicon on the same die? This could also eliminate the need for external capacitors, reducing part counts, board real estate, and cost.

Re:Meh (4, Insightful)

amirulbahr (1216502) | about 9 months ago | (#45220255)

Capacitors used on your motherboard are mostly there as part of filter circuits and therefore chosen for their unique transient response (i.e. exactly how they behave over time once a voltage is applied). In other words, the discharge rate matters. Can't be too fast, can't be too slow.

Designing silicon based super caps for long term energy storage with slow discharge does not automatically mean that the same tech will replace regular electrolytic caps. I'm not saying they won't, haven't even read TFA, but the design goals are certainly distinct.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45220859)

If they change the caps in the power filters they "just" have to redesign the filters with some different resistances.

Re:Meh (1)

kheldan (1460303) | about 9 months ago | (#45224677)

Can't be too fast, can't be too slow

For what it's worth, when designing a switching power supply, you want the equivalent series resistance (or ESR) of the filter capacitors to be as low as possible. This is why you'll often see several capacitors in parallel with each other rather than just one big one: paralleling them lowers the effective ESR.

Re:Meh (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 9 months ago | (#45223421)

The article is pretty light on details, but it's entirely possible that this capacitor type will have a too high equivalent series resistance (ESR) to work well as a decoupling capacitor.

Wrong (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#45219161)

It's a capacitor. The journalist has suggested what you've written as a use for it, but it's really a capacitor and has multiple uses, like the ones you are dismissing.
To be frank it would be a lot harder for to replace the batteries than the capacitors in circuits but I suspect the journalist wanted to put things in terms that looked simpler - most people know about batteries.

Re:Wrong (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 9 months ago | (#45221751)

Posting to undo accidental mod.

Re:Meh (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about 9 months ago | (#45218455)

You know that you don't need much skill or money to replace capacitors right? They come off pretty easily.

Re:Meh (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 9 months ago | (#45218459)

I just junked a computer because the capacitors were all leaky and it wouldn't run stable any more. If the chips (CPU, RAM, etc) didn't need capacitors any more because they had the necessary capacitance built right in, and it was solid-state, I think that would be great.

It would be great, if the new supercaps are much more reliable than the current aerogel supercaps.

I've repaired a few MoBo's, (and some other consumer equipment as well), simply by replacing the bad electrolytic capacitors. But if the caps are 'in the chips', you can probably forget about repairing the equipment, unless you can find a replacement chip and are very good at fine-pitch close-quarter surface-mount rework soldering.

Re:Meh (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#45219175)

They won't have the same failure mode since they are solid state - so no electrolyte to break down or leak.

Re:Meh (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 9 months ago | (#45226925)

Like icebike said, this is about batteries. Your caps are leaking and exploding because they're cheap bottom of the barrel shit. Voltages are the same in today's computers as 1990's, but you didn't have the capacitors exploding because they simply used better components.

AND, the capacitors on your motherboard are for circuits that tie different chips together; the chips themselves have caps on silicone (and resistors and other components).

The subject we're discussing isn't more reliable capacitors; that's not what supercapacitors [wikipedia.org] are.

The capacitors on your motherboard store small amounts of energy for tiny periods of time. They're used for various purposes, like oscillation circuits for modulating or demodulating, timing circuits, and as frequency filters. An AC current passes right through it (or appears to -- 60 Hz AC runs one way, then the other. The charge builds up on the plate until the polarity is reversed, then discharges. The higher the capacitance, the more low frequencies are filtered. They're usually used in conjunction with coils, which do the opposite of what capacitors do.

Supercapacitors are used for storing large amounts of power quickly and discharging that power slower and at a lower power. Their advantage over batteries is the speed that they can be charged. They should also last a lot longer than batteries, since batteries are chemical devices (depending on how the supercapacitors are made).

Re:Meh (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45217627)

They've a few other advantages. Their power density is huge, which is great for things that need brief but very high-power surges.

I used a few of them in hobbyist high-power engineering to power the solonoid on an experiment. Five hundred amps DC at 12V with ease. Any attempt to do that with batteries or a high-current PSU would have taken up half the living room.

The experiment was to determine the effect a high magnetic field would have on an arc. It was quite the success: The arc behaved very differently indeed in the presence of the field.

Re:Meh (4, Informative)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 9 months ago | (#45217881)

I used a few of them in hobbyist high-power engineering to power the solonoid on an experiment. Five hundred amps DC at 12V with ease.

Not a "supercap "you didn't
They tend to have several ohms ESR. Low ESR supercaps are in the realm of 100m ohms. 500A at 12V requires a total system impedance of 0.024R.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217971)

Huh?

Please elaborate on that.

Re:Meh (1)

Mashdar (876825) | about 9 months ago | (#45219751)

It helps if you do your math on a napkin and ignore source impedence.

Re:Meh (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 9 months ago | (#45221061)

I did.
12/500=0.024
When I said "total system impedance" that includes the source. Hence having 0.1 ohms ESR in the capacitor supplying the power, its impossible to discharge 500A into anything with only 12V.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45220749)

You haven't gone shopping lately. Lots of supercaps with milliOhm resistance and sufficient voltage rating to do that, although they all cost $150 in quantity and could only provide that for about .04 seconds.

Re:Meh (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 9 months ago | (#45221797)

Still good enough to power a paralyzer. ;-)

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45218685)

Five hundred amps DC at 12V with ease. Any attempt to do that with batteries or a high-current PSU would have taken up half the living room

You can easily get 500 A from a car battery, it is about what is required to start the engine. Car batteries don't take up half a living room. They are quite dangerous to play with.

Small arc welders with switchmode PSUs are also available at reasonable prices these days, but they are far from 500 A.

Re:Meh (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45220679)

Welders are AC.

Re:Meh (1)

aXis100 (690904) | about 9 months ago | (#45220961)

No, welders come in AC and DC variants.

There are plenty of switchmode DC arc welders around these days. I bought one the other day for $200 and it does 120A easy.

Re:Meh (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45221563)

Find me one that can:
1. Manage 500A DC at 12V
2. Sustain that for the duration (About thirty seconds) of an experiment.
3. Still be affordable to a lowly helpdesk monkey.

Re:Meh (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 9 months ago | (#45222627)

"You can easily get 500 A from a car battery, it is about what is required to start the engine"

"You can easily get 500 A from a car battery, it is about what is required to start the engine"

6 Kilowatts needed to start a car engine ?
Surely you must be thinking of a truck

  l can remember cars that you could start with a crank handle (yes the car was made before I was born )

Re:Meh (2)

pcjunky (517872) | about 9 months ago | (#45219675)

Even if you manged to get 0.1 farad, it would provide 12 volts for only a few milliseconds at 500 amps.

Your average Lead - Acid car battery will put out 1000 amps into a dead short. Don't try this though, things tend to explode.

Super capacitors tend to have very high ESR, no good for power filtering.

Capacitors and inductors are the two things that don't reduce down to chip levels very well. One of the main reasons your cell phone isn't just one chip. Making these on chip is kind of a holly grael. If this were that easy chip makers would have done this long ago.

Re:Meh (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#45220683)

2.5V, 2600F. The big ones. Strapped six in series to get something that could take the voltage.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45221029)

A DRAM bit is realized with a capacitor and a transistor.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Square_array_of_mosfet_cells_read.png

Re:Meh (2, Informative)

Xiph (723935) | about 9 months ago | (#45217655)

Call me when a supercap has anything like the energy density - by any measure of cubic or weight - as a battery. Till then, they have only niche uses. I've seen various supercap articles that were about tech that was "About to change the world" for how many decades now? OK, sooner or later, they might...I'm still waiting, and I ain't gonna live for as many more decades as I've already been waiting. Till then, I'll drive my Volt.

DCFusor, you forgot one thing to be informative.

The article states their power density around 13wh/kg in one of their diagrams.
While l-ion batteries are up to 1500 wh/kg (common ones are however much less often around 500 wh/kg)

Re:Meh (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 9 months ago | (#45217761)

1500 Wh/kg is more than double what's been demonstrated for any battery chemistry even in a lab setting, and 500 Wh/kg is higher than any shipping lithium ion battery that I've ever heard of, so I'm going to say that your numbers are complete BS.

Re:Meh (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217925)

500 Wh/kg is higher than any shipping lithium ion battery that I've ever heard of, so I'm going to say that your numbers are complete BS.

500 Wh/kg is available from lithium batteries, but not from rechargeable ones. Rechargeable ones are less than half of that.

Re:Meh (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 9 months ago | (#45218609)

Except he didn't claim 500 from lithium, but from lithium ion.

Re:Meh (2)

jeff4747 (256583) | about 9 months ago | (#45217961)

Good thing you didn't supply any "correct" values. Otherwise someone might accuse you of being helpful.

Re:Meh (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45218101)

Geeze - just hit Wikipedia and (assuming the sock puppets haven't been at it), look at the specific energy:

100–265 Wh/kg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery

Nothing like trolling by a factor of 10 in the morning.

Re:Meh (1)

complete loony (663508) | about 9 months ago | (#45219101)

Though a capacitor inside a CPU may be able to use it's stored energy more efficiently. Or cut off battery / mains power and run from the capacitor for a while during a sleep state.

Re:Meh (1)

myrdos2 (989497) | about 9 months ago | (#45219321)

Funny that the Wikipedia lists lithium ion batteries as having 100–265 Wh/kg.

Re:Meh (1)

fatphil (181876) | about 9 months ago | (#45221389)

> The article states their power density around 13wh/kg

That's an energy density, not a power density. (And watts are represented by a capital "W", not a lower case one.)

The article does not contain the phrase "power density", except as a label of the graph. Likewise the paper on Nature. But the limit of that axis on that graph is 10 Wh/kg, and all points are to the left of that limit.

Is there anything else apart from making up units, and making up numbers that you'd like to confess to, to get it off your chest?

Re:Meh (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | about 9 months ago | (#45217661)

Super caps are neat for their application but suggesting they are useful for this is a stretch. It seems from RTFA that they think 5 Wh/Kg is comparable to 128 Wh/Kg for Li-ion . Also the incorporation into silicon presents serious issues that never get resolved in less than 10 years. No sane company is going to incorporate this in a line of CPUs and then find out that after a year they like to release their energy in one single burst. I suggest we test them in 747s first to make sure they are safe and do not pose any risk to my CPU.
Thanks for the link , looks interesting. Hands-on scientists like Science/Engineering/Tech forums [coultersmithing.com]

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217687)

"About to change the world"
The world’s first super capacitor light rail train was completed Friday by China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation Limited (CSR) Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co., Ltd. in Zhuzhou of central China’s Hunan province.

This new type of electric locomotive can be fully charged within 30 seconds during its station stops, as it features a box-type super capacitor on the roof and charge spots at the foot of every compartment, Xu Zongxiang, general manager of the company, said.
source: http://www.shjinpei.cn/news/china-produces-super-capacitor-light-rail-train/

No meh here (4, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 9 months ago | (#45217765)

Call me when a supercap has anything like the energy density - by any measure of cubic or weight - as a battery. Till then, they have only niche uses.

The thing is, there are many applications where space and weight aren't an issue, but lifetime and power sourcing are. For instance, I have lots of room -- going ten X on the space involved isn't a problem for me in any way, but it'd be awesome to have a reliable, high-power capable storage system to replace the batteries I'm using now, which (a) aren't going to last very long and (b) are severely limited by comparison in terms of the maximum current that can be drawn from them.

The real problem is just an engineering one: we need some standard systems to give us usable energy in standard ranges (12vdc and/or 120/240vac) from ultracap stacks. There's nothing hard about that, it's a market and demand issue, no more. Given the demand, designing the hardware is a doddle.

And of course it's worth noting that UC size is going down while power is going up. Most likely, at some point they will cross the battery line, and that's the time to buy stock in whatever UC company pulls it off.

Plus, instead of poisoning the environment with a dead battery, you can will your UCs to your kids. :)

Re:No meh here (1)

DCFusor (1763438) | about 9 months ago | (#45218815)

If you've got tons of room and don't care about complexity, then look into vanadium redox batteries, for things where those don't matter much - those exists and are already in use in Japan and other places, sadly burdened with IP rules and patents.
.

If you look at energy in a capacitor - Joules = 1/2 ce^2, most of the energy is at the top of charge, and you'd have to be a real swithing supply guru (which I happen to be) to get most of it out, even, at some usable range of output voltage - those parts would be costly, and you might need more than one set to cover the range of inputs.
.

Li batteries are eminently recyclable, probably easier than lead-acids which are already recycled in large %. I know this as I use them in my off-grid solar system, and frankly, would kill to get the Volt system for my home (or several of them, as that's what it would take to replace the truckloads of submarine batteries I now use).
.

Sorry I didn't quote numbers above - someone else (Xiph) thankfully did that for me - they are so far off, no matter who's been spinning them - we can assume that's the case like with most numbers (noticed what you actually pay for groceries vs the official inflation rate for example?) - that's my point - even worst case and post-spin we're not in the same order of magnitude, much less "near" or "better" and won't be soon, if ever. With only a bit of physics knowledge, you'll understand why. It's true that we are also not that far from limits on battery energy density, this is one thing that definitely does not follow "Moore's law" as the periodic table is already full. But that doesn't mean that even with single atomic layer high D dielectrics and very expensive single layer epitaxy, we're going to beat that with caps. In fact, the chances are, we have a higher failure rate in practice than with batteries unless no cosmic ray ever hits your single layer insulator...and so on.
.

And oh, if you hit the webpage in my sig and pass the turing test by finding it - my number IS on there.

Re:No meh here (1)

semi-extrinsic (1997002) | about 9 months ago | (#45221245)

(noticed what you actually pay for groceries vs the official inflation rate for example?)

Amen. The CPI has risen 30% here in the past 15 years, while the price of milk has gone up 70%. Gasoline costs have more than doubled, electricity costs have almost tripled, housing costs have more than tripled. Go figure.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217877)

Same as 3D printing and private space.

Re:Meh (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#45220559)

I'll just note that some uni students, funded by NASA (IIRC about $5000), successfully fired a 3D printed one-piece titanium rocket engine. This engine cost less than 1/10 as much as the original fabricated engine it is destined to replace, and took a few weeks instead of over a year to manufacture. Another group are building entire housing structures by 3D printing, essentially, dirt. 3D printing is now recognized as critical to long term space habitation, development, exploration, etc.

Of course proponents prefer to call it 'additive manufacturing', which makes sense because it gives a better idea of just how it fits into the grand scheme of things. It's just another way of making things, that has huge advantages for some (many) applications. I predict that your local auto parts store will soon have one that can print a replacement for that taillight lens that you busted last week - saving you 70% of the cost versus a dealer part.

On another tack, a company has just come out with a machine that you can put your old water bottles and other plastic bits into, and it will melt them down and turn them into the 'wire' that goes into another company's 3D printer, so you can make your own widgets and toys. AFAIK no home models yet include color but it will come.

HP has announced that it will bring out an office/home model next year, which means it's already running in the dev group.

Re:Meh (2)

wenchmagnet (745079) | about 9 months ago | (#45221269)

<quote><p>On another tack, a company has just come out with a machine that you can put your old water bottles and other plastic bits into, and it will melt them down and turn them into the 'wire' that goes into another company's 3D printer, so you can make your own widgets and toys.</p></quote>

Putting this together with the story about the oceans dying [http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/10/21/newser-ocean-pollution-overfishing/3143007/], perhaps we could build harvester/mining ships that could trawl the oceans for plastic flotsam/garbage and turn them into 3D printer "ink". Its hard to get people to clean up after themselves, but if there was money in it, people would go after this and it might actually help clean up some of our mess.

Re:Meh (2)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#45221927)

I think I recall reading that one of the people who first discovered this problem, (a researcher at U Washington?) has been running research ships out there to see if that can be done. There are two big problems. First, the stuff isn't all that thick - while it sounds like the ocean looks like a venue after a rock festival, the stuff is not very thick in the open ocean. Second, it actually degrades - the sun breaks it down to smaller and smaller bits as the plasticizers get broken down until it's basically molecular, then if it hasn't already been eaten by something, it gets eaten by bacteria but still not digested. So whatever you do has to be able to pull it out of the ocean at a very, very fine scale.

The advantageous bit is that most of the great gyres where it collects are in open ocean which is a kind of blue desert - there's not a lot of biological activity; while the stuff that lands on island beaches can be collected locally. So my brilliant idea is to use the power of wind, geography and sun - build very large (possibly miles wide) autonomous sail-trawlers with fine net-like structures that are made of oil-attracting materials (possibly in a dual-element - one with enough strength to capture actual physical bits, one possibly in the form of jellyfish-like streamers to attract and capture the molecular stuff). The macro scale would have the sailing components connected by the net-like structures, and would look analogously like the Solar Eagle [gizmag.com] (which has several engine pods connected by wing structure).

To avoid capturing sea life, rather than a regular net, the 'net-like' system would be more like a long complex of jellyfish streamers, or perhaps some form of kelp or very flexible feathers; many individual streamers that branch into smaller and smaller branches, all covered or made with the stuff that attracts oil and plastics.

The key technology is the oil-attracting material. This exists, and it also is attracted to/attracts molecular-level plastics (think how hard it can be to remove oily stuff from a plastic container - it takes a strong detergent!). I think the feathery net-like structures would wrap themselves around larger pieces until they are covered, but fish should be able to get away. And as noted, that part of the ocean tends to be relatively poor in nutrients, and sea life. However three would almost certainly be casualties.

So these systems would basically float around in the gyre, being pushed gently against the water in various directions according to wind, waves, and the coriolis effect. Periodically a tender vessel (possibly also autonomous) would come out and pull the net-like structures through a cleaning device to remove the plastic particles of all sizes. It could then use the material collected as fuel, or return it to a recycling facility.

Alternatively, perhaps the system could work catalytically to break the plastics down to smaller molecules that then become real food for ocean bacteria and such. That seems like a few more steps up the technology ladder though.

Re:Meh (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 9 months ago | (#45218223)

The other big gotcha that never gets mentioned is that rechargeable batteries self-dischanrge in weeks if you don't use them. Capacitors self-discharge in hours or minutes. I can see them being a useful supplement to Li-ions (kinda like a plug-in hybrid can supplement a car's ICE). e.g. Do a 5 min quick-charge just before your flight which will run your laptop for an hour before it starts drawing power from the battery. But I don't see them replacing batteries any time soon.

Re:Meh (2)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 9 months ago | (#45218395)

Call me when a supercap has anything like the energy density - by any measure of cubic or weight - as a battery.

Too true. The article says these new supercaps are "significantly better than commercial supercapacitors". How much better is "significantly"? Unless it's an order of magnitude or more, it's probably not that big a deal. Why? Because unlike batteries, whose voltage remains nearly constant for a large portion of their usable charge, capacitor voltage starts decreasing as soon as discharge begins. So for optimum usefulness you need to charge a supercap to higher than the system voltage, then regulate it down - and both of these processes have a major negative impact on efficiency, increase the cost, etc.

That said, it would be cool to have large capacitors right on the die to provide higher peak current capability for drivers and such

What's a luddite doing in science or engineering (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#45219129)

Do I need to remind you that Goddard did not build a Saturn five rocket in his backyard on the first try but had to settle for something a bit less impressive?

keep on livin' the dream! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 9 months ago | (#45228269)

Professor Goddard lacked the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

pic of lithium-based battery power densities (1)

Coop (9778) | about 9 months ago | (#45219291)

Looks like 200 Wh/kg is industry leading for widely used technology.
http://bioage.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c4fbe53ef019b0033dc98970d-800wi [typepad.com]

Re:pic of lithium-based battery power densities (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | about 9 months ago | (#45220861)

Tesla's currently using cells that are around 250 Wh/kg.

Re: Meh (4, Funny)

drainbramage (588291) | about 9 months ago | (#45219463)

Pretty high and mighty for a dude that owns a volt.
Tell me when you have a columb.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45220109)

"When they used it to make supercapacitors, they found ... improved energy densities ... significantly better than commercial supercapacitors."

You're right. They shouldn't even bother trying to come up with ways to catch up to batteries, or to make the super-caps sold today (which have valid uses) both cheaper and better.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45222809)

Rapid charging? Sounds like something that is likely to A-SPLODE!

This will be a GREAT way (4, Insightful)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 9 months ago | (#45217407)

to provide electricity for my flying car, and my holographic storage disks too!

Re:This will be a GREAT way (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 9 months ago | (#45217969)

to provide electricity for my flying car

I know you need 1.21GW peak power, but what's the total energy requirement?

Re:This will be a GREAT way (1)

alexgieg (948359) | about 9 months ago | (#45218645)

I know you need 1.21GW peak power,

It's actually 1.21 jigawatts. The conversion factor from jigawatts into gigawatts is unknown.

but what's the total energy requirement?

Extrapolating from the documentary, where time travel takes about 0.5s, I'd say at least 0.6 jigabrowns, give or take. ;)

Lifted from "Day of the Tentacle" (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 9 months ago | (#45217471)

Dr. Edison's "Super Battery" plans have been stolen!

Re:Lifted from "Day of the Tentacle" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45219727)

and they said imitation diamond wasn't good enough!

Re:Lifted from "Day of the Tentacle" (1)

itlurksbeneath (952654) | about 9 months ago | (#45224469)

I'm waiting for Dr. Tesla's version...

Re:Lifted from "Day of the Tentacle" (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 9 months ago | (#45225457)

You might be waiting awhile. I heard he went nuts and married a pigeon.

Energy density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217473)

Still only about 1 % of li-ion batteries. On the other hand, lithium is relatively rare and silicon is dirt common.

Re:Energy density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217673)

Dirt common, or sand common, amirite?

Re:Energy density (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217711)

Absolutely

wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217495)

Dis is da bomb. If only it wasn't 10 years away (and always will be).

Release Date??? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45217501)

I hate these kind of articles. If there's no release date and price what is the purpose. If I had a dime for every "breakthrough" that never resulted in an actual product I could pay off the national debt.

Re:Release Date??? (2)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 9 months ago | (#45217807)

If there's no release date and price what is the purpose.

The purpose is science, so we know how things work and what we can do. Technology you can personally leverage comes later. ALWAYS. You think the transistors on the ICs, and the ICs themselves, sprung into being in the first microprocessor systems? No, they were lab critters and no more than that, well prior to the 4004 and successors. Crude, hacky looking things of no direct use to anyone. But now look at them.

I agree it's tantalizing to see and hear about such tech and not be able to use it, but this is the process, and there is no alternative that's obvious to me, nor apparently, anyone else.

Re:Release Date??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45220279)

"You think the transistors on the ICs, and the ICs themselves, sprung into being in the first microprocessor systems? No, they were lab critters and no more than that, well prior to the 4004 and successors. Crude, hacky looking things of no direct use to anyone. But now look at them."

What? The first transistor ever was to be used for telephone repeaters. You have a strange view of things, my friend.

Re:Release Date??? (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about 9 months ago | (#45220581)

Indeede. For another example, I just saw on History Detectives, the first transistor pocket radio (the Regency TR-1 [wikipedia.org] ) came out in 1954, at a price of $49.95. That would be over $500 today. This was apparently the first consumer use of transistors. What-became-Sony's first effort came out in 1957 and didn't quite fit in your pocket.

Re:Release Date??? (2)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#45219205)

I hate that kind of consumer mentality - it actually gets in the way of any sort of progress.

Re:Release Date??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45221165)

I think you're severely underestimating the size of the national debt

If I read correctly... a battery on the chip die? (2)

mlts (1038732) | about 9 months ago | (#45217635)

If I read the article correctly, this would allow supercap batteries to be placed on the chip die. This doesn't sound like much, but it would be useful in keeping DRAM refreshed if there is a power outage for a brief bit, or enough juice to dump the DRAM to permanent storage (a small SSD.) If the processor state can be saved as well, this would allow a computer to start right back up almost exactly where it was before.

Of course, this wouldn't be enough power to keep a modern day CPU like a POWER7 running at full tilt for any significant length of time, but it might be enough to get the machine's components to save its state and shut down cleanly.

Then, there are the obvious uses for supercap batteries. A buffer for solar cells that can charge the regular batteries at exactly the power they need is one example, especially if combined with a MPPT controller. If the supercap cells are good enough with energy density, they could even be the primary batteries, although there was a patent application with working prototypes I read mentioned a bit ago [1] about high temperature batteries with a large energy density, and these would be a great candidate as primaries, while the supercaps would be additional storage, a buffer for optimal charging, and giving the ability to continue charging for a little bit of time once the solar panels stop receiving usable light.

[1]: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1307/1307.1305.pdf [arxiv.org]

Re:If I read correctly... a battery on the chip di (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 9 months ago | (#45219069)

If I read the article correctly, this would allow supercap batteries to be placed on the chip die. This doesn't sound like much, but it would be useful in keeping DRAM refreshed if there is a power outage for a brief bit, or enough juice to dump the DRAM to permanent storage (a small SSD.) If the processor state can be saved as well, this would allow a computer to start right back up almost exactly where it was before.

Of course, this wouldn't be enough power to keep a modern day CPU like a POWER7 running at full tilt for any significant length of time, but it might be enough to get the machine's components to save its state and shut down cleanly.

Then, there are the obvious uses for supercap batteries. A buffer for solar cells that can charge the regular batteries at exactly the power they need is one example, especially if combined with a MPPT controller. If the supercap cells are good enough with energy density, they could even be the primary batteries, although there was a patent application with working prototypes I read mentioned a bit ago [1] about high temperature batteries with a large energy density, and these would be a great candidate as primaries, while the supercaps would be additional storage, a buffer for optimal charging, and giving the ability to continue charging for a little bit of time once the solar panels stop receiving usable light.

[1]: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1307/1307.1305.pdf [arxiv.org]

The paper doesn't suggest you could fit these on the same slab as an IC; I'm not sure we'd want to either -- there are times when it's useful to be able to pull the plug; letting chips have control over their own power sounds like the beginning of the singularity.

Shipstone anyone? (1)

jhumkey (711391) | about 9 months ago | (#45217811)

Heinlein rests a little easier tonight.

Probably not on-chip (1)

Animats (122034) | about 9 months ago | (#45217853)

The paper doesn't suggest that putting this device on the same chip as an IC with other functions is possible. But it does indicate a promising material.

This is still at the level of "cool effect seen at microscopic level". It's not yet at "experimental device built, cycled for many cycles, here are the results", let alone "prototype demonstrated".

EEStor and other snake oil salesmen (1)

tekrat (242117) | about 9 months ago | (#45217899)

There was a company, I think it was EEStor, that claimed they were building a Supercap that could be used to electric cars, I believe some Canadian carmaker (zep?) even licensed the tech, but the company never once displayed a working product, claiming that their process wasn't yet patented or some other kind of hand-waving. All very shady, and their press releases seem to be geared towards getting venture capital and producing nothing.

So the question: Is this a real breakthrough that will actually result in a real tech leap, or is this yet another bit of snakeoil meant to attract dumb people with fat wallets?

If Exxon Mobil or Chevron buys the tech, and then suppresses it, then it's real, we know that from experience.

Re:EEStor and other snake oil salesmen (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 9 months ago | (#45225251)

> There was a company, I think it was EEStor

Yeah. Long and short, they couldn't make it work.

I suspect, but have no way of knowing, that they got great results out of small samples, and believed scale-up was all that was needed.

Similar problems infected the room-temperature superconductor field for a while. People would see sudden drops in resistance and interpret that as small portions of a larger mass going super. Then someone noticed that copper does the same thing not far below zero, yet no floating magnets

Supercapacitor + wax heat sink = super-ultra-turbo (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 9 months ago | (#45219435)

A few months back, I read about a wax heat sink [geek.com] that could allow processors to turbo to very high speeds for very short periods. But...

Unfortunately, dealing with the heat created by sprinting isn’t the only issue that needs to be resolved. Even if wax is up to the task, there needs to be improvements in battery technology before such a system would work in a portable device.

Intel engineer Steve Gunther told Wired, “if I can’t get the current out of the battery it doesn’t help. You need balanced solutions.”

Well, here's the technology that can help that.

Self-storing solar energy? (2)

kheldan (1460303) | about 9 months ago | (#45219571)

In fact, it should be possible to construct these power cells out of the excess silicon that exists in the current generation of solar cells, sensors, mobile phones and a variety of other electromechanical devices..

Not sure if they're making a comparison here or proposing an application, but wouldn't it be pretty spiffy if you had photovoltaic cells that stored the energy they collect and convert from sunlight, so it's there to use when you need it? Not sure what the leakage factor for a supercap of this type would be compared to current technology supercaps, you'd still have some energy stored for an hour or two at least, and I think that would be a game-changer for solar power.

Forget it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45222027)

A breakthrough that could potentially eradicate the chemical battery? Does anyone actually believe that Duracell and AC Delco are going to allow that? And lets don't forget planned obsolescence. The tendency throughout the history of capitalism has been to make goods less durable, not more. This is a pipe dream, it may appear in a very limited spectrum but we will never see it in wide spread use and my guess some giant of industry is going to kill it quickly and completely. Nothing stifles innovation and progress like private industry and the profit motive,

Total rubbish (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 9 months ago | (#45225197)

Click to the article, and from there to the original paper. Look for Figure 4. Extract energy density of 5 Wh/kg. Wiki up "energy density" and extract super capacitors at 0.018 MJ/kg. Ask Google to convert 0.018 MJ to Wh. Google returns 5, so 50 Wh/kg.

So this new super device has exactly the same performance as existing super caps.

Power my phone for a week my ass.

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