With their inherent potential to deliver instantaneous power, ultracapacitors provide a distinct advantage over conventional batteries and are slowly penetrating various niche applications that demand quick bursts of power. However, with their costs estimated at three to five times that of batteries, their ability to compete with the conventional batteries in terms of cost is likely to decide the pace of adoption of this technology in the market.
Materials used in the ultracapacitor accounts for approximately 50 to 65 percent of the system's total cost. Among these materials, activated carbon is one of the most expensive used. It attracts few suppliers because it is not used by any other industry and is produced in small quantities.
However, in an attempt to make the ultracapacitor technology cost competitive with respect to competing technologies, leading research institutions and companies are working at producing alternate materials that are less expensive and at the same time store more energy.
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The two main types of carbon being researched by ultracapacitor manufacturers are the phenyl resin-based carbon and the pitch-based carbon. While pitch-based carbon costs about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of phenyl resin carbon, it does not offer the flexibility to control its pore size, resulting in 30 percent less capacitance when compared to the phenyl-based carbon.
Also, despite their high power density, high cycle efficiency and long cycle, ultracapacitors suffer from low energy densities compared to rechargeable batteries. In addressing this concern, researchers and industry participants are working on tailoring the porosity of carbon so as to achieve a higher energy density.
“Researchers at the electrochemistry laboratory, Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland have carried out fundamental research on the capacitance limits of activated carbon, degradation mechanisms, and lifetime aspects and have reported that carbons with surface area greater than 1500 m2/g do not increase capacitance,” notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Viswanathan Krishnan.
Among the competing battery technologies, lead acid batteries and Li-ion batteries are considered the most formidable threat to ultracapacitors. While the price pressure currently applied by lead batteries on the development of ultracapacitors is very high, ultracapacitors can be seen as having certain advantages over alternate battery technologies and factors such as performance, price and speed of implementation are likely to determine the predominance of either technology.
“The ultracapacitors’ competence to meet the power burst requirements of applications such as regenerative braking and catalyst pre-heating has motivated automobile manufacturers to pursue this technology,” says Krishnan. “In addition, apart from being considered for various applications such as consumer electronics, computer electronics, industrial and power applications, ultracapacitors also find use in renewable applications such as fuel cells that demand power surges.”
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Ultracapacitors--Global Trends and Developments (Technical Insights)
Keywords in this release: ultracapacitors, activated carbon, phenyl resin-based carbon, pitch-based carbon, power density, cycle efficiency, energy density, regenerative braking, catalyst pre-reheating, research, information, market, trends