Many of the electric vehicle blogs that I follow are all buzzing right now over the idea of supercapacitors — well, more accurately, graphene-based supercapacitors, which could potentially solve a few of the issues that EV’s currently face with market adoption.

What’s the big deal? Well with batteries, one can store a great deal of energy in the cells, but the rate of discharge (and the rate of charging) is relatively limited. Capacitors on the other hand have the inverse problem, quick to charge and discharge, the amount of energy that they can hold however, is relatively small.

In theory, supercapacitors have the best qualities of both batteries and capacitors, featuring both high-energy capacities and quick discharge/recharge rates, and in this realm graphene is showing to have very promising results.

Basically a molecule-thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a lattice, until recently producing graphene has been a very laborious undertaking, and one that did not scale well for mass production. However, some clever scientists at UCLA have come up with a relatively cheap and easy way to produce graphene sheets, and the technology bodes well for making supercapacitors a more practical solution for electric vehicles.

Allowing vehicles to rapidly charge (as in within a few minutes, instead of hours), supercapacitors solve the great recharge-time issue with EV’s, and would potentially be on par with gasoline vehicles, if not quicker in this regard.

The down side is that graphene supercapacitors are currently about half as energy-dense as the current crop of lithium-ion batteries, which makes them physically cumbersome in applications like on a motorcycle.

That doesn’t mean that the technology is a no-go for automotive use though, as in Formula One and Le Mans, we already see teams using a hybrid supercapacitors/battery strategy, thus creating so-called “superbattery” systems.

Here, energy-dense lithium-ion batteries help feed the power-dense supercapacitors, which then discharge into an electric motor for when extra power is needed by the driver. The process in reverse occurs during breaking, with the kinetic braking force is used to recharge the supercapacitors for their next use.

Already capable of providing the power density required in four-wheel and two-wheel applications, supercapacitors still need to develop a great deal further on the energy-density side of the equation before being a practical replacement for lithium-ion batteries, which themselves are considerably less energy-dense than gasoline.

Cost is another considerable factor, though as the technology develops further both the cost and energy density figures will become more acceptable — interesting stuff.


  • Kelso

    great article, really interesting stuff…

    what other good electric vehicle blogs do you follow besides

  • Cpt.Slow

    Yes and this is the future

  • Heatsoak

    Ceramic-based superconductors will be the death knell of the ICE. Once the energy density vs cost issue gets sorted out (which will take no more than 1-2 decades IMO), we will have long range electrics that can “refuel” in under fives minutes.

    Can’t wait…

  • Westward

    1-2 decades ?

    This article is evidence that the technology is just around the bend… I have seen solar roofs on the Fiskar Karma and the Toyota Prius. Can you imagine he possibilities…

    I’m sure Tesla is eying this progress. Their Model S is just short of amazing.

  • Shawn

    ” Heatsoak says:

    Ceramic-based superconductors will be the death knell of the ICE.”

    Superconductors and supercapacitors are two completely different technologies.

  • Heatsoak

    A valid point, and one that i should’ve caught before pressing Submit Comment. Yes, superconductor =/= supercapacitor.

    @Westward: Elon Musk has spoken about the possibilities of supercapcitors several times. If he’s on board, you can bet it will get done one way or another. But there are several magnitudes are energy density that need to be achieved first, not to mention some serious safety concerns. And so far, companies like EEstor have proven to building vaporware only.

    This technology is coming soon. But not tomorrow.

  • jzj

    I also avidly follow the newest research reports, and agree that graphene offers high hopes in a number of areas: it is the lightest strongest construction material and therefore will be the basis for chassis and skin components; it has superconductor properties and therefore may be the basis of superconductors (or, perhaps ceramics will be, as noted above); and it has a tremendous potential for capturing and releasing electrons and therefore will be the basis of superdupercapacitors (and it may also be a basis for ideal photovoltaic cells, and it’s nearly invisible and so these cells can be laid across glass). However, all that being said, these actual manufactured components are likely still 10-20 years off. Indeed, there isn’t even agreement on the basic process form for graphene. So let’s also still recognize that there is plenty of opportunity for lots of nextgen stuff before we get to graphene, which may then prove itself to be the final-gen stuff. (For my speculation on this very subject, I have a recent article addressing near and mid future tech for electric (and conventional) vehicles:

  • Jeram

    Combine graphene super-capacitors with some form of laser based 3D printing and you then we can start to see endless possibilities for packaging these less energy dense power sources.

  • smiler

    The idea that UCLA are the only organisation that have found ways to produce cheap graphene is misleading, although a great US blog.

  • Grant Madden

    So in the future,and probably not too distant future your body work will be your solar cell and power source with only a small super conductor motor powering the vehicle.All made of carbon atoms,stronger and lighter and more powerfull than anything available at this present time.It will be self charging using solar energy so it will be essentially free to run.The Government will hate it and find some way to tax sunlight.So start storing sunlight in small jars for that day,No?but the new vehicles will be restricted in power output by law and have built in speed limiters No?What you win on the swings you lose on the round abouts,so stay off the round about Ha ha ha

  • My go-to guy for technical expertise in this area is Lennon Rogers, who ran MIT’s motorcycle EV project. When I saw this film a couple of weeks ago, I asked him if this was really a game changer, and he told me that he didn’t think this technology offered an immediate increase in energy density. Current Li-ion batteries can dump more than enough power into motors, although (subject to the provision of charging infrastructure) it *would* be better if they could be charged faster — that’s the promise of these supercapacitors. What we need, though, is a doubling or more of energy density before EVs will really get much market traction. Is this an inspiring little film? Yes. Is this going to change EV acceptance in the marketplace any time soon? Nope. Next!

  • steve_a

    The answer is no. Power is not an issue with current lithium-ion batteries, or at least not generally; limited energy is. Even graphene-based supercapacitors are far worse than lithium-ion cells on an energy-density basis, and are likely to fall further behind. Lithium-ion battery charging can generally be faster than the electric infrastructure can provide, and for power optimized cells, you could conceivably recharge in 15 minutes if everything were designed for it and if you had the charging infrastructure.

    Much more interesting is the work on silicon anodes in a graphene matrix for lithium-ion batteries; we may see cells with energy densities doubling those in the current batteries used in Zeros and Brammos in 2-3 years. That’s not a game changer, but it opens more possibilities for truly usable electric vehicles.

  • dude with a good idea!

    OOH OOH! Did you see how flexible that stuff is as he pealed it off the disk? What if you could make sheets of the stuff and make structural elements/body panels out of it just like carbon/glass fiber? Forget about size constraints. The car/bike won’t be carrying a large bank of supercapacitors; the car/bike will BE the supercapacitor!

    Clearly there is a lot to still work out, and my idea would have its own problems (and might not work at all), but this is seriously exciting!

  • balakrishna

    energy density is not a big issue if i can recharge in less than a minute. i dont mind stopping for a minute every 100 mile or so..think its the future