New technology could power battery-free electric cars within five years

Nov 21, 2014

Image: Viappy/Shutterstock

By Fiona MacDonald

Electric cars are often touted as the future of sustainable transport, but they’re held back by the fact that they require really heavy, slow-releasing batteries to power them – even the top-end Lithium-ion batteries on the market charge extremely slowly and weigh a lot.

A far better option would be to use supercapacitors – devices that can release energy in large bursts – but they’re unable to store as much energy as batteries, and so it would take a lot of them in order to power something as big as a car.

Scientists have instead been working on ways to combine batteries and supercapacitors in order to make batteries more powerful and lighter in the short-term. But the ultimate goal is to develop a supercapacitor that could also store large amounts of energy.

Now nanotechnologists from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia have developed an ultra lightweight supercapacitor that can easily be combined with regular batteries to dramatically boost their power while decreasing their weight – and within five years could eliminate the need for batteries altogether.


 

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72 comments on “New technology could power battery-free electric cars within five years

  • 1
    aquilacane says:

    Damn! Guess I’ll re-purpose my home-made supercapacitor lab in the basement. Really thought I would be first to market this time. All I have left is the anti-matter engine but I need the supercapacitor to make it viable. Damn!



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  • aquilacane Nov 21, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Damn! Guess I’ll re-purpose my home-made supercapacitor lab in the basement.

    Ah well! You’ll just have to go for the hydrogen fuel-cell electric car instead!
    http://www.driving.co.uk/news/news-honda-fcv-ready-for-2016-a-year-after-the-toyota-mirai/

    Maybe they could combine the technologies to use the super-capacitors to boost acceleration in a similar way the present hybrid cars use petrol engines.



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  • Oh! . . .. and Hyundai is also working on a hydrogen powered fuel-cell vehicle!

    http://www.hyundai.co.uk/about-us/environment/hydrogen-fuel-cell?gclid=CJGCqczSjMICFQrHtAodHjQAEQ

    Hyundai ix35 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

    Introducing the world’s first production model Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle.

    Powered by renewable energy, our world-leading zero-emissions technology takes a giant step towards a truly viable alternative to the internal combustion engine.



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  • Graphene ultra-capacitors have been around for two years now, so this announcement of upscaled devices is overdue.

    The fantastic thing about these caps is that whilst having very high energy density (Joules per Kg) they can be charged so fast they can do realtime regenerative breaking to boost efficiency. Currently this cannot be done with batteries alone. They need supplementary super capacitors (lesser technology but expensive and heavy) as the fast energy dump.

    The body panel wheeze was considered doable back then and the interesting prospect is if layered graphene might add any mechanical integrity also. This might be in the form of a high tensile strength, working off a rigid skeleton.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oEFwyoWKXo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuHrUnCOWWo



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  • I suspect the final product will have a combination of a number of technologies. Possibly multiple energy sources. Even a PV skin to constantly top up the energy sources while driving in the sun. I want one now though. A battery / hydrogen / capacity / PV / overnight charged car. Apart from the odd trip, I now rarely travel more than 15 kilometres from home.

    p.s. With the Mods indulgence. Phil. My wife teaches junior primary. One of her topics is inventions where the kids have to create an invention. Involves lots of great aspects of learning. A couple of weeks later, the kids have to revisit their inventions and come up with three improvements. The ideas have had time to ferment. My wife finds this topic rewarding and uplifting. One child came up with an improvement to the light bulb of including a small battery so that during a black out, the bulb gives out a diminished yet useful light for a couple of hours to allow for safety and continued function within the area. Is it a go’er.



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  • If the graphene capacitors actually get to work I’m afraid hydrogen will be no more. The complexity and cost of its use works against it. It needs supercapacitors anyway to lift its low continuous output power to decent acceleration levels. The infra-structure for hydrogen delivery will probably never appear and 95% of hydrogen is currently made from natural gas. PEM Fuel cells need serious volumes to get their costs down. Pump priming three serial activities of eco hydrogen production, distribution and cost effective conversion is going to be a colossal task. I still believe that NH3 that has distribution infrastructure (of sorts) in place may be a necessary stepping stone.

    The distribution logistics for electricity are not a burden but indeed a positive pull for battery powered cars. Utilities would possibly end up charging cars at near zero cost to be able to utilise such mass and speedy energy storage on occasions. Battery cars of the envisaged performance here, if made available may accelerate alternative energy source adoption by decades.

    The energy density of these caps will push much further the size and range of electric planes.



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  • Wonderful video’s Phil. I commend to the reader.

    Could you make the skin of the car out of this stuff, and include an outer PV layer, that sends charge directly to the graphene super capacitor?



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  • One of her topics is inventions

    Excellent! Doing “inventing” is the most perfect way to introduce kids to the value of science and technology. What it involves first is that kids find a problem of their own that needs solving. As an inventor I always believed that solving problems was the thing, but finding a problem, a real corker that could make human existence better is even better. Nothing drives a thirst for new knowledge like finding and owning a problem and then searching the mags and the interwebz and libraries for things that might help. I learned maths for instance only when I understood it could solve my problems.

    Emergency lighting (for that is what her protege his rediscovered) is common in commercial buildings but absolutely needs to be re-invented for home use. This capacitor could be exactly the way to achieve it.



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  • Yes. Perovskite Solar PV is very thin and is a candidate if the lifespan can be brought up.

    I have been tangentially involved in a global steel makers attempts to creat mass producible building material panels that consisted of PV outer, energy storage middle and lighting emitter inner skins. We may end up rediscovering something akin to nature’s trick with double layered skin that can make all manner of functional glands and doodads by puckering or rolling the inner or outer layers in different ways.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 21, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    The distribution logistics for electricity are not a burden but indeed a positive pull for battery powered cars. Utilities would possibly end up charging cars at near zero cost to be able to utilise such mass and speedy energy storage on occasions. Battery cars of the envisaged performance here, if made available may accelerate alternative energy source adoption by decades.

    If the storage capacity is as it appears, and the charging as quick as suggested, this could be used to develop city “trolley bus” systems without the need for overhead cables.
    Charging points could be at the terminus or at bus stops. There could be conventional buses or articulated “train” type buses like trams without rails.

    There is also the possibility of combining this technology with the new “driverless vehicle” technology and automated payment technology.



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  • Just about everything with a battery changes for the better.

    If phones could be recharged in the time it takes to drink a latte, capacity wouldn’t have to be increased from current levels. We’d just get more free charging point in coffee shops.

    Electric bikes and motorbikes would be transformed. Your car would be cleaned and charged in the same twenty minute shopping trip.



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  • I was going to say, sadly no, but I went to wiki (!) and looked up the energy in a bolt of lightning- 5 billion Joules or 1.4MWhs. So a very very big capacitor of 2 thousand farads at the end of a lightning conductor with a pulse shaping network could store this energy at 680 volts (ideal for turning into 230VAC with two switches.)

    You could be on to something here!

    It is a very big capacitance. (Out of interest it is worth noting that the self capacitance of the earth is just 700 hundred micro farads.)



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  • (!) 😉

    I wasn’t thinking that big but wow! Maths not my strong point, not had the training but I was thinking of the static that could be produced in a moving car that could charge the capacitor as you drive. Any movement being utilised.



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  • Can static electricity be useful in this technology?

    Electricity from capacitors is static electricity. Electricity from batteries is chemical electricity. The slower charging of batteries is due to the need to run the chemical reactions at a reasonably slow rate so as not to damage the batteries.



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  • There is a William Gibson novel Virtual Light were the protagonist has a bicycle which charges up when you pedal to the extent of being able to shock potential thieves. I guess we are getting there.



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  • 19
    aquilacane says:

    Yes, totally. With that last report of lightning increasing 50% in the near future, big lightning catchers might be a project worth examining. We know where it strikes most and how often.

    Phil, could you splice the lightning and manage it in smaller bites



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  • Can anyone with a bit more knowledge than me in these things (I’m thinking Phil or Alan) please explain to me how you could get say 400km of energy into the capacitors (I understand the capacitors can handle high currents themselves) without melting the cable? It just seems an enormous amount of energy to throw through a charging cable.

    Don’t get me wrong I’ve been excited about this for a long time especially the prospect of having light batteries I could use in my gyro, my VW has quit on me 3 times now, the last time requiring me to walk several kilometres in long grass (worried about landing safely only to be bitten by a bloodly snake) to get to a high enough point to radio for someone to pick me and my machine up. I’ll be very glad when I can power the thing with an engine with only one moving part.



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  • Very high currents can be reduced by working with multiple capacitor cells in series, (they have a voltage limit due to breakdown effects), though charge balancing is necessary with protective switches across each. Twice the voltage of the capacitor battery half the current and half the copper needed in the wire. However the other strategy to manage very high currents with fast switching control is to use large area nearly coplanar copper conductors, thin, wide wires in a sandwich almost like a capacitor itself. This was something I discovered for myself about twenty five years ago when making a 20KW 480V battery tester. It dramatically reduces interference and dangerous voltage spikes, and I’ve been using the trick ever since.

    Just recently the perfect switches to control all this lot have become available. GaN Mosfets (these made possible by the availability of commercial quantities of bulk GaN, thanks to Nobel winner Shuji Nakamura pioneering blue/white LEDs [PBUH]).

    To create fast charging fuel stations the likelihood is that they will have capacitor stored stocks of electrical energy to smooth out demand from the grid (They’ll be topped up slowly, but drained quickly). Utilities will super love this. They may be paid to store a little more so they can smooth out the renewables.

    You might pay less for lower recharging rates given the cost of the infrastructure, hence, supermarkets might offer cut price power whilst you shop.



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  • We could fly kites (Franklin’s?) I suppose and we could dump surplus energies with enormous gas discharge devices (transient protectors). Or we could have gathering towers with radially arrayed lasers angled up from the ground to its top so ionised gas channels can be created going up and out to “milk” the most promising clouds.

    Sadly, this may just turn out to be wildly dangerous and expensive. As a paid for protection startegy it may have some legs. Solar PV and that trillion and a half barrels of oil’s worth of energy just falling out of the sky per day, some mirrors and those InGaN cells still in the lab has my money on it.



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  • 24
    Lorenzo says:

    That doesn’t solve the biggest issue out there -a huge mammoth in a tiny room that everybody seems to be ignoring.

    The problem is: where do we actually find all the energy needed to move about millions of electric vehicles? Because it would be a shame if we’d find ourselves with the need to charge our shiny electric car with very fancy supercapacitors on top of very fancy batteries… by burning petrol in power stations.

    Don’t get me wrong: the technology here is very interesting and quite exciting (I think Volvo was working on similar projects and they actually manage to embed this kind of capacitors in body panels as well), but… to charge an electric car, you have to have the energy. and until nuclear fusion becomes available (estimates are in 50-60 years, for the european project ITER), I’m not that confident we have…

    Audi is working on a buffer solution which is very interesting and, I think, more viable than electric power: growing algae to produce biofuel with a net CO2 balance of 0.



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  • Thanks Phil much appreciated.

    Every time I go to a shopping centre car park I wonder why there aren’t panels shading the cars and charging stations on the end of every row. I imagine this will come as electric cars become more popular.



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  • Lorenzo Nov 22, 2014 at 5:20 am

    That doesn’t solve the biggest issue out there -a huge mammoth in a tiny room that everybody seems to be ignoring.

    The problem is: where do we actually find all the energy needed to move about millions of electric vehicles? Because it would be a shame if we’d find ourselves with the need to charge our shiny electric car with very fancy supercapacitors on top of very fancy batteries… by burning petrol in power stations.

    The energy is all around us. Tidal, solar thermal, photovoltaic, geothermal, wind, hydro-electric, possibly thorium nuclear.

    There are comments and links on earlier discussions.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/09/8-surprising-depressing-and-hopeful-findings-from-global-survey-of-environmental-attitudes/#li-comment-156966

    Unlike bio-fuels, solar power can use sunny deserts which do not produce food crops, and tidal turbines can provide no-take zones, letting fish-stocks recover, where fishing boats are kept out.



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  • If we genuinely had this energy storage capacity we could unlock a huge amount of renewables now that, otherwise, has to grow more slowly as new HVDC links and smart grid infrastructure that facilitate the large scale averaging needed are put in place.

    Total energy use in the transport sector could fall to a third due to the astonishing efficiency of high (kW) power electric motors. (The energy usage on short journeys is reduced even further over ICE vehicles.)

    It may even be legitimate to install local CHP generators powered initially by natural gas (much cleaner than oil) with a view to transitioning to green gas as the agribusinesses and water treaatment companies become engaged.

    Buy power off local solar roofs newly installed for the purpose.

    Lots of possibilities creating real business growth paths to sustainable end points.



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  • 28
    Lorenzo says:

    I have no doubt about the fact that we have many elsewheres to look for energy. The question is: is that enough. You may imagine to double (at least) the count of households in the world in a very short time -say: 10-15 years.

    Can “renewable” sources keep the pace? Would they be enough? I can very well imagine nuclear fusion to be enough -and to such an extent that every concern about efficiency could be disregarded, up to a certain point- but that might not be the case for solar power, wind power and so on… it’s all a big sum to be done: did anyone do that? I haven’t come across it yet.

    P.S.: bioffule from algae might be a good idea, if you grow those algae in the sea -with the same benefits of deep water tidal turbines.



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  • 29
    Lorenzo says:

    I’m not so sure that this unlocking business would actually happen if the request grows fast and wide. Traditional, not renewable and not environmentally friendly sources are easier to implement, simply because the technology is well established. But let’s assume it will happen: the question remains whether it will be enough to move us all. And keep in mind that we are talking about millions of vehicles. And, for Newton’s sake, don’t forget lorries and vans and aircrafts, which also need oil derivatives to power themselves!

    The efficiency of the electric motor is just the last efficiency you have to worry about (and you may also put it to 1 and forget about it). To make a meaningful comparison with internal combustion (IC), you have to start evaluating from the power plant downward, including the efficiency of production, of distribution and storage. You come very close to the 0.3 which is now boasted by internal combustion, and the only real advantage might be the regenerative breaking. For which you need to ask Mazda, who is employing supercaps for that reason. And they are also doing some very clever things with the compression ratio of their engines.

    Speaking of gas and compression ratios: there is a very good way to increase the efficiency of an engine: make it run out of gas (preferably methane, from 0-CO2 balance sources) and make it compress more. You need, of course, to put some thought in the design of the various components to make them withstand the higer pressures but that’s far from impossible.

    In conclusion, I think the issue of the grid development has to be addressed scientifically before we decide to swith to electric locomotion. I’d find more sensible to keep the old IC engine runnig with better fuels until nuclear fusion is ready -and the technologies for electric locomotion are ready- and then switch.



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  • Lorenzo Nov 22, 2014 at 7:17 am

    I have no doubt about the fact that we have many elsewheres to look for energy.

    Yes! – The potential for solar is vast! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deserts_by_area

    it’s all a big sum to be done: did anyone do that? I haven’t come across it yet.

    At over 9,400,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi), the Sahara covers most of North Africa, …. desert would be over 11 million square kilometres (4,200,000 sq mi) in
    area. … It is the world’s largest subtropical hot desert,

    Named deserts of Australia cover 1,371,000 square kilometres (529,000 sq mi), or 18% of the Australian mainland.

    The question is: is that enough. You may imagine to double (at least) the count of households in the world in a very short time -say: 10-15 years.

    Population management is a separate issue. Populations cannot expand indefinitely on a finite planet, but the energy potentially available from desert solar and tides, is many times current levels of use. – It may not be located next to current dense levels of human population, but populations move to new resources.

    The consumption problems are mainly resulting from excessive and wasteful consumption in the developed world. Third-world carbon foot-prints are small.



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  • Wouldn’t the combination of house and car bring down the recoup time for solar panels? We might see a huge demand if that happens even on supermarket roofs. Solar/capacitor stations instead of petrol stations.



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  • Karl Nov 22, 2014 at 8:03 am

    All we need now is more electricity!

    We already have technological answers. We simply need to develop the technologies, build the capacity, and stop wasting investment money on carbon subsidies to coal, oil, and gas companies, or on further carbon exploration for unusable “assets”!



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  • Lorenzo Nov 22, 2014 at 7:43 am

    In conclusion, I think the issue of the grid development has to be addressed scientifically before we decide to swith to electric locomotion. I’d find more sensible to keep the old IC engine runnig with better fuels until nuclear fusion is ready -and the technologies for electric locomotion are ready- and then switch.

    We certainly need to evaluate the grid, just like evaluating the pipe-lines, oil tankers roads and railways needed to transport coal, oil and gas.

    Charging an electric car from photovoltaic roof panels removes the need for these expensive and energy demanding infrastructures! In sunny climates, local solar thermal power-plants do likewise.



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  • 35
    Lorenzo says:

    Yes! – The potential for solar is vast!

    It’s vastish: you can think of paving massive deserts with photovoltaic panels but… you also have to produce them. Anyway, the area was never the issue: if you run out of land you put them floating of water -and that, I think, would actually be a very smart move for countries with a lot of water around them.

    The problem is more complex than what fits in my working memory and whether renewable energy would be enough to power many many cars is an answer I can’t find without doing the maths.

    Population management is a separate issue.

    I’m sorry, I haven’t been clear on this point perhaps: I did some calculations once and you can equate an electric car to having some new households attached to the power grid. That “some” goes from 1 to 5, most likely around 3. If you start counting the cars that are around, you can gauge the size of the issue.



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  • 36
    Lorenzo says:

    We certainly need to evaluate the grid, just like evaluating the pipe-lines, oil tankers roads and railways needed to transport coal, oil and gas.

    That’s for sure.

    Charging an electric car from photovoltaic roof panels removes the need for these expensive and energy demanding infrastructures! In sunny climates, local solar thermal power-plants do likewise.

    Are you sure that a rooftop can recharge an electric car in a useful time? Keep in mind that you need to fill up tens of kWh, which is a lot of energy. Especially if you have some clouds hanging around. This is a quantity you can calculate and I’d suggest you to do that for your own house…



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  • The latest natural gas fired power stations are hitting 60% without going CHP which can add another ten percent on. Average grid losses are 8% in both the UK an the US, in part because of a chronic decline in investment in the infrastructure. New HVDC links can help this and investment in substation equipment using amorphous metal core transformers can drop medium and low voltage distribution losses substantially. Given the inevitable rise in energy cost this reinvestment should be a no brainer now. At least three percent can be gained easily and is the sort of target the industry could manage, if it can attract the investment. Embedded and distributed generation (eg. renewables and local CHP) only add to the reduction in losses.

    25KW to 100KW motors now typically achieve 95% efficiency. The win is clear if added capacity is merely the latest natural gas and destined just to get better. Better still this approach will cause a levelling up in performance. American ICEs are woefully behind the curve of what is possible. If fossil fuel cannot be burned responsibly and at maximum efficiency we should give the task to the exemplars like GE.

    The levellised cost of energy for wind power is now on a par with natural gas and expected to fall a further 25% to 2030. Having energy storage that is affordable (if it is) merely brings this inevitability forward in time as full night time and day time capacity can be utilised.

    The numbers for the amounts of energy needed are all available. The roll out of a graphene capacitor technology if viable will take two decades or so for significant penetration and any additional capacity can be added (if needed at all) in a commensurate time frame.

    (As a corollary to the efficiency arguments look at the claims for plug in hybrids using grid power and gasoline/diesel power. If there weren’t big gains they wouldn’t make them plug in.)



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  • Lorenzo Nov 22, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Yes! – The potential for solar is vast!

    It’s vastish: you can think of paving massive deserts with photovoltaic panels but… you also have to produce them.

    While there are some big photovoltaic farms, heat-storage liquid-salt solar-thermal systems are more more viable for big plants in deserts – and can provide power 24/7 through the night.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/how-it-works-solar-power-towers-with-integrated-storage-78892

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_tower

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy

    and a link on tidal turbines: –

    http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-releases/2014/march/140318-mst-lm-and-atlantis-resources-ltd-harnessing-the-power-of-ocean-tides.html
    Designed to facilitate operation in highly energetic tidal locations, the AR1500 turbine will be one of the largest single rotor turbines ever developed and will have active rotor pitch and full nacelle yaw rotation. The increased capability and integrated, advanced functionality will help bring commercial tidal energy to reality, and will initially support the MeyGen project in Scotland’s Pentland Firth and deployment in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Once completed, the MeyGen project – the world’s largest tidal stream project under development – is expected to deliver up to 398 megawatts of power, enough energy to power 200,000 homes. The MeyGen project will contribute to Scotland’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.



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  • Lorenzo Nov 22, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Are you sure that a rooftop can recharge an electric car in a useful time? Keep in mind that you need to fill up tens of kWh, which is a lot of energy.

    A basic roof-top set of photovoltaic panels is 4kw. For normal commuting drivers should be able to plug in at home and while parked at their destination.

    If this is insufficient a mains boost from local wind, tidal, or solar should boost the charge. I also mentioned the “no-melt-down” thorium liquid-salt nuclear reactors, with their safer short half-life, and a capacity to burn up previously produced nuclear waste.



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  • @ Lorenzo.

    In the UK the average electrical energy usage per vehicle per day will be about 8kWh. Current (sic) usage per household is 15kWh and residential usage of electricity is 33% of the total. So one would see a shift to electric cars (if total) result in some 17% extra electricity demand. I expect a 5% drop in electricity usage due to new lighting technology, a substantial improvement in utilisation of existing supplies due to adoption of the same storage technology and a plethora of other negawatt initiatives. Besides domestic electricity demand peaked in the UK in 2005 and has been falling ever since.

    I know for a fact that the power utilities have been expecting this day to happen (again if it happens). This is not a surprise to the industry.



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  • Figured you’d be on my case, Phil.
    The car is a wonderful technology but the proliferation of the private car is ruining the planet. There’s nothing sustainable about the massive industrial complex that produces cars or the massive infrastructure that is required to support them.
    Re-reading Brave New World at the minute and fascinated by the “Ford” motif therein. That saves an otherwise dull novel.
    Solvitur ambulando.



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  • I think we can do cars differently. I am starting a new business to try out some of the ideas. Its about the circular economy (but not about cars alas) and its about having the products we want, manufacturing a tiny fraction of what we do now, yet still having vibrant markets and innovation. The trick is to create modular products (like hi fi systems back in the sixties and seventies) Its components are long lived but can be replaced with other specification parts, and the original part sold as is or sent for re-manufacturing or re-engineering or just recycling. Cars built on chassis (chasses?) of carbon fibre like F1 cars will be super light and strong and there is no reason it can’t be kept for fifty years.

    Plug in hybrids are, at last, vehicles that could be the first modular cars. Sell your old genset and battery components and get a reduced genset and a bigger battery reflecting your new commuting requirements. Downsize the hub motors now you are a responsible parent. Re-skin in a less police attractive go-faster style.

    Modular products are more expensive but potentially much lower impact, require a tiny fraction of the embodied energy per year, with long lived parts, reduce imports, create local re-speccing, trading, re-engineering and re-manufacturing businesses and opens up products to innovative smaller companies to create a better doodad in place of the Ford standard widget.

    GM, for instance, is mostly a bank, a marketing enterprise and a screwdriver assembly operation now. Its vehicles are mostly designed by a handful of tier one module suppliers to a marketting spec. and screwdrivered together as often as not by a competitor. They can be got to a further refinement of vehicle building and ownership if governments continue to push eco standards and favour long lived modularity against short lived disposable products….

    The VW L1 could be made modular and super safe. Built right it (its parts) would (mostly) keep their value. You may need a mortgage for it, but you could bequeath it to your kids.



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  • Tinkering with cars, in the ways you suggest may be the only answer in the interim, given that our Brave New World has been engineered to be so car-dependent, but decentralizing cities and pushing back against the tyranny of the private car at every opportunity, as is slowly happening in places like Copenhagen, are the only solutions to the blight VW, Ford, GM et al have inflicted on the fabric of society and on the ecosystems on which we depend.
    Walk on.



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  • Thanks, Olgun. And a perfect illustration.

    Trigger’s broom, the ship of Theseus and my Hi Fi never once lost their identity. Just as I don’t when my cells are replaced and my ideas get changed.

    I appreciate your sentiments, quarecuss. I love walking and cycling, but as I get older I am happy to have a little help (with a bike rack on the car) getting to my favourite starting places. I also prefer London with far fewer cars, but with trains and tubes and buses…and taxis, and I adore the human scale of Amsterdam and cycling in Cambridge…..

    But I am stumped at finding the remaining evil in cars after my “tinkering”.



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  • 49
    Lorenzo says:

    @Phil: thanks, those are the first numbers I see and they partially answer my question of whether there would be enough. I’d expect the percentage increase to be more than 17%, because of the parallele switch of commercial transport. But then, I’d be surprised if it would sum at more than 25%. An increase of 25% smeared over a couple of decades looks, indeed, manageable.

    It’s up to us, I guess, to pester our governments to have an energy strategy which points strongly on renewable enegry… which, at least in my country, is far from banal.

    @Alan: I wasn’t aware of the molten salt thermosolar plant. Clever. And indeed I can see it fitting pretty well into a desert… my question though wasn’t about variety -I know there are many ways to extract energy from renewable sources- it was wether it would be enough. Phil gave me a number which is reassuring, considering that it has to be smeared over a decade or two. And considering that its magnitude is not so scary: +1/4 on top of what we are doing now. It might just be possible.



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  • 51
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Very high currents can be reduced by working with multiple capacitor cells in series, (they have a voltage limit due to breakdown effects), though charge balancing is necessary with protective switches across each.

    I like the idea of distributing the charge on multiple capacitors. Just one thing: connecting those in series will actually decrease the total value of the resulting capacitance:

    1/Ctot = 1/C1 + 1/C2 + 1/C3 ……

    Wiring the capacitors in a parallel topology will accomplish the additive effect you’re looking for:

    Ctot = C1 + C2 + C3 ……

    An added advantage is that charge will balance itself in this configuration. High speed, heavy duty solid state switches could be wired in series with each cap in the parallel array and accurately timed by software control to regulate the charging current.

    Charge current is at its highest at the beginning of the capacitor’s charge cycle and slows down as it reaches its full capacity. So I’m guessing the charge switching time alloted sequentially to each capacitor could be driven by the inverse function of the capacitor’s normal charge curve. The rest is just tweaking in order to obtain the optimum trade-off between charge time, energy recovery and current overload protection.



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  • You can’t trick more energy storage out of the caps by series or parallel connection, just reduce the charging rate needed with series connection or increase it with parallel.
    Each capacitor gets charged near to its voltage limit which in effect defines its energy capacity. The energy capacity of each capacitor is (CV^2)/2 where C is its capacitance in farads and V the voltage its charged to. When you consider these “batteries” of capacitors you can see that all in parallel simply adds the capacitance and adds the energies (eg four times the capacitance and four times the energy). In series it looks like this may not be the same. The battery of capacitors is a quarter the capacitance and four times the voltage. From the energy equation the energy we’ve got increases with the square of the voltage multiplied by the new capacitance. Four squared times a quarter, or four.

    Charging the caps will be mediated by a charging circuit. The battery voltage will be very high and a voltage boost circuit consisting of a series inductor, a shorting switch and a subsequent transmission switch (operated alternately at very high frequency) will, by their timings, regulate the input current to produce an input current waveshape exactly like the input voltage waveshape. This is very important to the power utilities. It makes the capacitors look like big resistors and optimally uses the transmission lines and generators to minimise power loss.



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  • If this works what is the improvement in weight/power or volume/power versus lithium ? I’m thinking particularly about drones. How much longer does a drone stay up and how much quicker does it recharge? I’m thinking drones recharging from rooftop stations powered by solar panels. Drone recharge stations could be the cell phone towers of tomorrow.



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  • Currently they are less good than Lithium in specific energy at 100Wh/Kg (the best number I’ve heard so far). This is top end NiMH perfomance but half that of Lithium ion. The technology, I believe has the capacity (sic) of topping lithium once better support and electrolyte films are worked on.

    My one sentence on aeroplane use was rather misleading I’m afraid. Its particular virtue there and in the medium term will remain fast turn around and longevity.

    Not mentioned so far is the thousand cycle degradation of chemical technologies. These graphene based devices should last very much longer greatly reducing costs. The electrolyte they use is really just a wet conductor that can conform to complex tiny shapes. The best specific energy capacitors use wet electrolytes, which can wriggle into smaller spaces to connect to more surface area. I suspect that big transportation caps mights have little electrolyte top up points as life limit is just loss of electrolyte.

    A pair of phone drones would exploit this technology very nicely with quick recharge.

    Personally I would do this with an upwards laser or microwave for continuous powering in position.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 23, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Personally I would do this with an upwards laser or microwave for continuous powering in position.

    If you could target a laser that accurately, would a thermocouple system be an alternative or a supplement?



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  • I would use an InGaN colour tuned PV cell on the drone, netting an 80% conversion efficiency and possessing a thermal robustness for the waste heat. GPS driven slow re-centring of the drone and fast, small amplitude beam steering for gust management from the ground. Maybe sound cancellation speakers on the drone…



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  • Thanks for the videos Phil, it’s always valuable to be reminded of ones ignorance now and again.

    And lacking the technical know how I was feeling a bit out of it until you mentioned that electricity demand has been falling in the UK since 2005; if by demand you mean consumption that’s clearly an error.

    Because much as I love them, I happen to know that our daughters have been jacking it up for at least a decade.

    I’ve had a 1983 series 3 Alfa Sud Green Clover Leaf tucked away for twenty four years, with a view to restoring it for enjoyment in my post parenting days, but now I’m wondering if all the new technology will finally kill my enthusiasm stone dead.

    Alternatively it could of course make it a rare beast indeed, and it’ll still be the nearest example I’ve known a standard production model handling like a sports racer.



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  • if by demand you mean consumption that’s clearly an error.

    The key point was “Domestic”. This has fallen because of energy efficient lighting, insulation policies and the cost of electricity.

    Here’s a graph.

    Industrial use can’t fall so readily, but commercial lighting, for instance will now start to fall as fluorescent lamps are starting to be out performed substantially and with new standards for controls.

    Do up the Alfa. Carbon mitigation is a possibility. And driven for a weekend once a month it will have less impact on the planet than next door’s cat. All you need is some biofuel conversion later perhaps for complete peace of mind…



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  • 59
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    You can’t trick more energy storage out of the caps by series or parallel connection…

    Absolutely right. Unless you add voltage-boosting switching circuitry using an inductance in series and tight timing (like the one you describe below).

    In series it looks like this may not be the same. The battery of capacitors is a quarter the capacitance and four times the voltage.

    Actually, the voltage drop across each capacitor also one quarter of the total voltage drop across the series network (assuming of course that all four caps are of equal capacitance value).

    The battery of capacitors is a quarter the capacitance and four times the voltage. From the energy equation the energy we’ve got increases with the square of the voltage multiplied by the new capacitance. Four squared times a quarter, or four.The battery of capacitors is a quarter the capacitance and four times the voltage. From the energy equation the energy we’ve got increases with the square of the voltage multiplied by the new capacitance. Four squared times a quarter, or four.

    Based on that assumption, the result would be two actually, since the equation is CV^2/2. But since the voltage drop is evenly distributed across the caps, the total resulting energy would be identical both in a series or a parallel topology.

    Charging the caps will be mediated by a charging circuit. The battery voltage will be very high and a voltage boost circuit consisting of a series inductor, a shorting switch and a subsequent transmission switch (operated alternately at very high frequency)…

    Ahh. Now that‘s the key. Supply voltage boosting. Now the V squared factor can effectively offset the reduced total capacitance and really pay off in terms of resulting energy storage.

    BTW, this clever portion of circuitry is, as you surely know, at the heart of all switching power supplies like the ones in our computers for example.



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  • I seem to recall a similar claim a few years ago by a company called EEStor in Texas. An electric car company in Canada invested heavily for the sole rights to distribute and it never materialized. The e-car company ZENN motors shut down production and I haven’t heard a word about them ever since.
    I am very skeptical until I see a working prototype that has been reviewed by a few independent labs.



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  • You could also use a passive transformer to boost the voltage (and drop the current) for a given charging power. Depending on the battery voltage (which may get to a 1000V or more) it is likely a transformer will do a lot of the voltage uplift anyway. Power Factor correction circuits lose efficiency when doubling their uplift. (Univeral input PSUs are notably less efficient running from 120V compared to 240V.)

    Based on that assumption, the result would be two

    No. 4. I’m not putting values into the equation. I am comparing the ratios of two equations given ratios of C and V. The divide by 2 is irrelevent as it cancels.



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  • Caveats abound on this, quite rightly. But the underlying potential of the physics is sound.

    Weir and Nelson’s high voltage ceramic capacitor technology were always left field. As I recall they were pitching at some extraordinary field strengths, requiring enormous material integrity over large areas. It is notable that the graphene route has a lot of research papers and a lot of university activity going on. Patenting and shutting out these broad resources so early as EEStor did makes it hugely arduous to overcome subtle and deeply technical problems that universities so happily gobble up if free to do so.

    High voltage, high capacity ceramic is appearing in DC link voltage applications, but at enormous cost. If Weir and Nelson could do one hundredth of what they claimed they could have had this significant market for themselves. It all seems a bit odd.



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  • Re-Cars and developing world.

    There are many options available that would make life better for the developing world and that should be more adopted here in the West. I live in a small city or large town depending on how you define it. However it has rapidly expanded and having a large population of people who come from a rural background where they don’t have to deal with much traffic it is frankly most can’t use a round about or merge or perform anything but basic driving. It is therefore dangerous to ride a bike legally on the roads with the rest of the traffic.

    I currently walk a lot to work (unless I need to bring home a lot of marking or bulky items). I would prefer to ride and I have a few workmates who do so but all of them speak of nearly being killed at least twice a year (I don’t like those odds). I have my eyes on the electric bikes out there with one of those kiddy carts to tow behind (for my stuff). I would still pedal but have some assistance going up the hills and would not need to get so sweaty. I just can’t trust drivers where I live. What we need IMO to is bike lanes preferably off the road ie. beside or near the footpaths (but separate). We also need more intermediate steps between motor bikes and cars (enclosed bikes with some protection and some ability to carry shopping and or a passenger, and we need to as much as possible keep trucks and regular traffic apart. We need to break away not from having some form of car but transition to a smaller more efficient versions.



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  • The other nice thing about fast charge is you could go to a “gas” station for a charge without having to physically swap anything. A bus could do a rapid charge while waiting at a light. You could get rid of all those trolley wires.

    If you can do frequent rapid charges, you can further reduce the weight of the vehicle. Passenger vehicles could charge any time they stop.



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  • There are three problems with electric bikes now:

    heavy. You have to be fairly strong to avoid having one fall over on you. When I was first using one I got myself pinned under the bike on some stairs. Oddly an elderly lady eventually rescued me. The main problem is the weight of the battery. To deal with the battery weight, the frame itself also has to be heavy.
    capacity. Lead/acid batteries gradually lose their ability to hold a charge, limiting your range.
    New lithium batteries are better, but very expensive.
    Not pleasant in the rain or snow. Perhaps we will see electric one-passenger vehicles with features of bikes and cars for efficient commuting in all weather. I find it bizarre the way people will use a 7 ton vehicle to transport a 100 pound woman out shopping or commuting.

    With fast charge, you might charge while you are out on a trip, extending range or reducing weight, rather charging overnight at home.



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  • Thanks Phil. So sounds great for cars then. I used to use NiMH’s years ago in my Palm Pilot. Usable but certainly didn’t last as long as throw away alkalines.



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  • They’ve changed with some new chemistry. Now NiMH packs the same punch as alkaline and they exist in low self discharge form and come pre-charged. There is no roll for alkalines any longer. The pink bunny is done for.

    Much safer and more eco than Lithium too.



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  • Thanks for the graph Phil; rather a short period of time to provide a context though.

    Biofuel conversion for the Alfa sounds good, as long as it doesn’t change the fundamental characteristics of the vehicle.

    I’ve been cycling since ’74, and now all my family ride bikes.

    Apparently, and I think you’ll be able to confirm as much, there were more battery driven cars in the first decade of the last century than there were IC engine propelled ones.

    An example perhaps of “free market forces” not always being the best way to go?

    Oh, and last evening there was a repeat of “The Day of the Triffids”, in which Lysenko is mentioned, and this morning I came across an article purporting to expose “Lysenkoism” among the contributors to the IPCC, which took me aback somewhat, and then I noticed the date of publication: 2012.

    You may have read it, it’s comical in that it accuses the main stream media of a Marxist bias; Fox News!?

    Sorry mods, I went off the beaten track a bit there.



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  • There were indeed many more electric vehicles early on in the evolution of cars. The motors weren’t great, electricity wasn’t so cheap but the batteries were surprisingly good and are still used in all vehicles today (except for some EVs). It was though the energy density of lead acid batteries versus petroleum that decided things and still mostly decides it today. Energy storage is THE problem of problems in moving to sustainability.

    “Lysenkoism” is a rotten but shrewdly targetted trick to pull. It is probably the result of a couple of million spent with a right wing think tank or a PR company. (Anybody know who used it first?)

    I am not a “we are all going to burn-up” type AGW accepter. My concerns are for the worst case scenarios given even 5% likelihoods. We don’t gamble with our kids. Not even 5%. Even so hanging the entirety of the need for a change in our behaviours upon this political battle ground between the forces of evidenced reason and Republicans irks me somewhat.

    My argument for change precedes all AGW arguments, the which, given the risks, are a final kick in the pants to get going. My argument is entirely about early transistion to sustainability as the very best gift for future generations. Stable, equitable environments with as few political access points (resources, energy supply) to pull peoples strings with. I endlessly talk of investment and stable environments. These are utterly interdependent and the surest way to growth…No not of more stuff, but of better configured same old stuff, of shiny new intellectual stuff. New problems found and solved. This is where wealth originates and solving problems large and small, global and personal, is the fount of satisfied happiness.

    Dammit, I think I’ve invented a religion. I could be rich!



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  • phil rimmer Nov 24, 2014 at 9:04 am

    These are utterly interdependent and the surest way to growth…No not of more stuff, but better configured same old stuff, shiny new intellectual stuff.

    This is what brain-dead politicians and “no-vision” finance manipulators don’t get!

    It’s a bit like farming! For good quality new growth, first a farmer needs to clear, or plough-under, the dead and dying remnants of the old crop together with any weeds, – after harvesting!

    Trying to “grow” bigger fields, just encroaches on land serving other purposes.



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  • What you might to is turn only only a subset of the capacitors, then when they have lost oomph, turn on some more. That way you might be able to flatten the power curve. Maybe you could charge some of the partially charged cores with the overcharged ones.

    I can still remember being about 4 years old, seeing a brown tube (called a condenser back then) in my Dad’s tool kid. I picked it up. It gave me one hell of a kick. I was so astounded since it was not attached to anything. I imagined it as a grumpy animal. I presume these new capacitors work at quite high voltages.



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