You are here

What are supercapacitors?

Supercapacitors, also known as EDLC (electric double-layer capacitor) or Ultracapacitors, differ from regular capacitors in that they can store tremendous amounts of energy.

A basic capacitor usually consists of two metal plates, separated by an insulator (like air or a plastic film). During charging, electrons accumulate on one conductor and depart from the other. One side gains a negative charge while the other side builds a positive one. The insulator disturbs the natural pull of the negative charge towards the positive one, and that tension creates an electric field. Once electrons are given a path to the other side, discharge occurs.

Supercapacitors also contain two metal plates, only coated with a porous material known as activated carbon. They are immersed in an electrolyte made of positive and negative ions dissolved in a solvent. One plate is positive and the other is negative. During charging, ions from the electrolyte accumulate on the surface of each carbon-coated plate. Supercapacitors also store energy in an electric field that is formed between two oppositely charged particles, only they have the electrolyte in which an equal number of positive and negative ions is uniformly dispersed. Thus, during charging, each electrode ends up having two layers of charge coating (electric double-layer).

Supercapacitor design

Batteries and Supercapacitors

Unlike capacitors and supercapacitors, batteries store energy in a chemical reaction. This way, ions are inserted into the atomic structure of an electrode, instead of just clinging to it like in supercapacitors. This makes supercapacitors (and storing energy without chemical reactions in general) able to charge and discharge much faster than batteries. Due to the fact that a supercapacitor does not suffer the same wear and tear as a chemical reaction based battery, it can survive hundreds of thousands more charge and discharge cycles.

Supercapacitors boast a high energy storage capacity compared to regular capacitors, but they still lag behind batteries in that area. Supercapacitors are also usually more expensive per unit than batteries. Technically, it is possible to replace the battery of a cell phone with a supercapacitor, and it will charge much faster. Alas, it will not stay charged for long. Supercapacitors are very effective, however, at accepting or delivering a sudden surge of energy, which makes them a fitting partner for batteries. Primary energy sources such as internal combustion engines, fuel cells and batteries work well as a continuous source of low power, but cannot efficiently handle peak power demands or recapture energy because they discharge and recharge slowly. Supercapacitors deliver quick bursts of energy during peak power demands and then quickly store energy and capture excess power that's otherwise lost. In the example of an electric car, a supercapacitor can provide needed power for acceleration, while a battery provides range and recharges the supercapacitor between surges.

Supercapacitor vs Battery charge times

Common supercapacitor applications

Supercapacitors are currently used to harvest power from regenerative braking systems and release power to help hybrid buses accelerate, provide cranking power and voltage stabilization in start/stop systems, backup and peak power for automotive applications, assist in train acceleration, open aircraft doors in the event of power failures, help increase reliability and stability of the energy grid of blade pitch systems, capture energy and provide burst power to assist in lifting operations, provide energy to data centers between power failures and initiation of backup power systems, such as diesel generators or fuel cells and provide energy storage for firming the output of renewable installations and increasing grid stability.

Graphene supercapacitors

Graphene is a thin layer of pure carbon, tightly packed and bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice. It is widely regarded as a “wonder material” because it is endowed with an abundance of astonishing traits: it is the thinnest compound known to man at one atom thick, as well as the best known conductor. It also has amazing strength and light absorption traits and is even considered ecologically friendly and sustainable as carbon is widespread in nature and part of the human body.

Graphene is often suggested as a replacement for activated carbon in supercapacitors, in part due to its high relative surface area (which is even more substantial than that of activated carbon). The surface area is one of the limitations of capacitance and a higher surface area means a better electrostatic charge storage. In addition, graphene based supercapacitors will utilize its lightweight nature, elastic properties and mechanical strength.

Graphene-based supercapacitors are said to store almost as much energy as lithium-ion batteries, charge and discharge in seconds and maintain all this over tens of thousands of charging cycles. One of the ways to achieve this is by using a a highly porous form of graphene with a large internal surface area (made by packing graphene powder into a coin-shaped cell and then dry and press it).

Rivaling materials

Several materials exist that are researched and suggested to augment supercapacitors as much (or even more than) graphene. Among these materials are: hemp, that was used by Canadian researchers to develop hemp fibers that are at least as efficient as graphene ones in supercapacitor electrodes, Cigarette filters, which were used by Korean researchers to prepare a material for supercapacitor electrodes that exhibits a better rate capability and higher specific capacitance than conventional activated carbon and even higher than N-doped graphene or N-doped CNT electrodes.

Graphene supercapacitors commercialization

Graphene supercapacitors are already on the market, and several companies, including Skeleton Technology, the CRRC, ZapGoCharger, Angstron Materials and Sunvault Energy are developing such solutions. Read our Graphene Supercapacitors market report to learn more about this exciting market and how graphene will effect it.

Graphene supercapacitors market report

Further reading

Latest Graphene Supercapacitors news

Skeleton Technologies receives a €15 million loan for graphene-based supercapacitors development

Feb 12, 2017

Skeleton Technologies logoSkeleton Technologies, developer and manufacturer of high energy and power density supercapacitors, has received €15 million in a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB), under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

This funding is meant to allow the company to finance the R&D for the further development of its products and systems. Skeleton will use part of the money to invest in an electrode mass-production facility in Dresden, Germany, according to the statement. The loan is stated to be based on company performance and doesn’t dilute the holdings of Skeleton’s founders, according to the EIB.

Grafoid unveils a cost-effective graphene coating called GrafeneX

Feb 01, 2017

Grafoid logoGrafoid, a leading graphene R&D and investment company, announced its entry into the global industrial coatings market with the introduction of its patent pending GrafeneX graphene coatings technology. Grafoid describes the GrafeneX technologies as a cost-effective way of laying down graphene coatings on large surface areas.

GrafeneX is a novel technology that creates a platform for the deposition of graphene and chemically functionalized graphene coatings. This process provides Grafoid with the capability to apply its diverse graphene-based coatings to many different types of material substrates with controllable levels of surface coverage, thickness etc. to meet precise end user requirements.

Graphene for the Display and Lighting Industries

Future Markets predicts graphene to reach $250 million at component and material levels in 2017

Jan 29, 2017

Future Markets has released a new report titled “The Graphene and 2-D Materials Global Opportunity and Market Forecast 2017-2027 Report”, that predicts that the graphene market will reach $250 million in revenues in 2017.

According to Future Markets, revenues for graphene at the materials supply level will be less than $75 million. However, a growing number of products that make use of graphene and 2D materials across a range of markets (smartphones, supercapacitors, coatings, composites, smart textiles and conductive inks) will be generating revenues of over $175 million, at the component level, in 2017. The market for graphene continues to expand, with new product launches, multi-million dollar funding for companies and start-ups and new government initiatives worldwide.

A look into Ionic Industries graphene oxide technology and business

Jan 27, 2017

Ionic Industries logoIonic Industries is an Australia-based graphene developer that was spun-off from Strategic Energy Resources (SER still holds 20% in Ionic) in 2015. Ionic Developed a proprietary Graphene Oxide production process and is developing GO-based materials and applications.

Simon Savage, Ionic's Managing Director, was kind enough to discuss the company's technology and the status of Ionic's GO applications.

Looking back into the hottest graphene topics in 2015 - getting ready to summarize 2016

Dec 20, 2016