It is interesting that we have a 'Faraday Challenge' which intends to research battery technology to improve efficiency by around 30% over the next 15 years.
In modern times, 15 years is a very long time, particularly when talking old technology. It is analogous to continuing to develop steam engines in the 1960's regardless of the incoming diesel and electric systems. With the appearance of Graphene, a 2D material with incredible properties, the potential for Super-Capacitors to power our world is more than credible... it's obvious.
Capacitors charge very quickly and can dissipate over time according to energy demand. SuperCaps, as they are known, can hold enormous charge and dissipate over far longer time scales than standard capacitors. So how would that change transport?
Regardless of the Challenge, batteries are heavy and some of their materials are found in politically difficult countries: one source of Cobalt, for example, is in a country with human rights issues. Batteries also need to be charged, usually slowly from mains electricity, which takes time. What's the difference then with SuperCaps?
Capacitors store charge between conductive and insulating layers of materials. Interestingly, Graphene is a super conductor at room temperature and Graphene Oxide is an insulator. Charging can initially take place from several seconds to a few minutes and can last, in a car, for the equivalent of several tanks of fuel.
Because 2D materials are only a single atom layer thick, a volume similar to a standard car battery can house thousands of square miles of 2D material which can hold a very significant and long lasting charge.
A major benefit of SuperCaps would be the ability to charge on-the-go, because even relatively minor amounts of energy can 'top up' the store. Energy harvesting can collect solar energy, friction and even radio waves from the air.
How might they work?
Similar to the present. I envisage two very light weight SuperCap power banks which alternate to supply the energy to the vehicle's drive-train. As one provides energy, the redundant bank collects energy from the sources mentioned above. Interestingly, Graphene based solar panels have been shown to be even more efficient when its raining than standard panels are in bright sunlight.
A small battery may be included as a backup to start the vehicle and provide initial charge in the event of dissipation; perhaps if the vehicle has not been in used for some time.
This potential system is very similar to fossil fuelled vehicles; once the battery starts the engine, electrical power from the Alternator takes over and this also tops up the battery.
Example of powerful standard capacitors
Capacitors are used in power supplies to smooth the supply to circuits and are used in microwave devices, such as a microwave oven. Even months after removal, such a charged capacitor can still deliver a lethal charge if touched.
So why no SuperCap challenge?
Since SuperCaps are undoubtedly the way forward, one would think such a challenge would be more important than keeping old steam engines alive - other than for heritage reasons. SuperCaps would mean motoring almost free of cost due to the amount of harvested energy. Good for the pocket, good for the environment. And how many HGV fuel tankers would that remove from our roads?
Even the emissions produced at the source of electricity production - to supply electric vehicles - could be virtually eliminated. In fact, even in respect of lubricating oil, since a Graphene coating on moving parts significantly reduces friction, this could easily replace oil. And the planned installation of millions of charging posts across the UK would be unnecessary.
Who could possibly be against developing SuperCaps?
Graphene is carbon. That's it. And it is the 2D bond that makes it so useful; >100 times stronger than steel and a super capacitor at room temperature.
Have you ever wondered what happens to all the money collected in respect of the carbon Tax? Now, there could finally be a satisfactory answer: carbon capture and creation of more Graphene. Another use would be Graphene power lines that would be stronger and could carry far more charge with less resistance. Efficiency in power transmission systems would reduce the on-cost of transmission and the associated environmental damage.
What we must have, is a Super-capacitor Challenge.
Luckily, a number of countries and researchers are doing just this, and Touching Blue is planning similar, self-funded research, in the future. However, our approach will not be to monetise our results/product but to ignore the patent office route and open the technology free to anyone who wants to use it on a large scale; many organisations simultaneously so no-one has a monopoly; conglomerates, monopolies, current energy suppliers and their parent companies will not be eligible to apply.
Only by doing this can we be protected from those with controlling financial interests that occasionally make it difficult for low cost tech to reach the marketplace.
Not everything has to be monetised; profit can be human as well as financial.