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Load Bearing Supercapacitors

A future with super capacitors used instead of a fuel cell may just be right around the corner. Graduate student Andrew Westover and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint have discovered in Vanderbilt Universities Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory a “devices [that] demonstrate[s] – for the first time as far as we can tell – that it is possible to create materials that can store and discharge significant amounts of electricity while they are subject to realistic static loads and dynamic forces, such as vibrations or impacts,” said Pint. “Andrew has managed to make our dream of structural energy storage materials into a reality.”

“In an unpackaged, structurally integrated state our supercapacitor can store more energy and operate at higher voltages than a packaged, off-the-shelf commercial supercapacitor, even under intense dynamic and static forces,” Pint said

What does this mean? Basically this means that the chassis of a car, the frame of a laptop, or a fridge can all potentially be built with this technology in mind, essentially eliminating the necessity for the weighty fuel cell battery.

“The new device that Pint and Westover has developed is a supercapacitor that stores electricity by assembling electrically charged ions on the surface of a porous material, instead of storing it in chemical reactions the way batteries do. As a result, supercaps can charge and discharge in minutes, instead of hours, and operate for millions of cycles, instead of thousands of cycles like batteries.” ~Nanowerk

Because of the Supercapacitors energy discharge rate, it has been common to find supercapacitors that weight as much or more than Lithium-Ion batteries. However, this new technology promises batteries that have multiple functions. They can act as the necessary frame of a device, as well as store energy. Another benefit of a battery that can withstand the stresses and shocks that a frame would experience is that this also directly translates into the endurance of the cell, effectively increasing the recharge-cycle lifespan from 500~1000 recharges we see in fuel cell batteries to over a million. It wouldn’t be practical if we had to replace a car frame every 3 years because the battery ran out!

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