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Supercapacitors: Will
they replace batteries?
A supercapacitor along with conventional battery can be a better electrical
energy storage device than the battery alone

focus on energy storage devices, par-

ticularly pulse power devices such as

Types of smart EES

The various smart EES systems can
be categorised based on their function
and form. High-power, low-energy
devices can be categorised by func-
tion, whereas high-energy, low-power
systems can be categorised by form.
Although electricity is not easy to store
cheaply, it can be easily stored in other
forms and converted back into electric-
ity when needed.
Storage technologies for electricity
can also be classified by the form of
Electrical energy storage. Elec-
trostatic energy storage includes
capacitors and supercapacitors, and
 Dr D.B. Talange into an electrical or non-electrical form magnetic/current energy storage
that can be stored for converting back includes superconducting magnetic

elivery of electrical power into electrical energy as per require- energy storage.
is becoming an increasingly ment. This process enables electricity Mechanical energy storage. Ki-
complex task for engineers to be produced at times of either low netic energy storage includes fly-
and policy makers alike. The electricity demand, low generation cost or from wheel-pumped hydroelectric storage,
systems are poised to change in order intermittent energy sources, and used compressed-air energy storage and
to accommodate increasing levels of at times of high demand, high gen- potential energy storage systems.
distributed storage and utilisation. eration cost or unavailability of other Chemical energy storage. Chemi-
These complexities are being recog- generation means. cal energy is stored in batteries such
nised internationally for alternating- Smart EES has numerous applica- as lead-acid batteries, nickel-cadmium
current systems. But there is need tions in portable devices, transport (NiCd) batteries, sodium sulfur (NaS)
to look beyond it as most consumer vehicles, stationary energy resources, batteries, sodium nickel chloride bat-
applications use direct-current supply etc. EES becomes more important in teries, lithium-ion batteries and fuel
and hence the smart energy delivery situations where we produce large cells.
system concept is required to be ex- amount of electricity from time- Thermal energy storage. Low- or
tended to low- and medium-power dependant energy sources like wind high-temperature energy is stored
direct-current systems. and solar. Smart EES has to consider through devices like solar fuels.
Electrical energy storage (EES) generation, transmission/distribu- Of these, chemical energy storage
refers to the process of converting tion, energy management system and devices are the most suitable for DC
electrical energy from a power source renewable energy. Research should power storage. Supercapacitors make

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Supercapacitors: Advantages
& disadvantages
1. High power and moderate energy
2. Very fast charging and discharging
3. Very high capacitance
4. Linear charging and discharging (up to
5. State of charge present is a direct
function of the output voltage
6. Very long shelf and working life
(theoretically no limit!)
7. Direct short circuit is not fatal
8. Small over-charging is not a problem
9. Today, it is available up to 5000F,
10. Series current-limiting resistor is not
required as it accept charges as much
as you supply

1. Each cell can give 1V to 2.5V (limit
Fig. 1: Regon’s plot showing energy density vs power density of various energy storage devices due to electrolyte stability)
2. High cost
nected electrochemical cells with 3. Very fast discharging
Some leading manufacturers very high surface-area electrodes 4. Low energy density
of supercapacitors which are generally made up of 5. Peak power is limited by equivalent
series resistance (ESR)
 NEC, Japan (for memory backups) activated carbon, and low equiva-
 Panasonic, Japan (for memory backups) 6. Time constant is small (1-2 second
lent series resistors (ESRs). These only)
 Maxwell Technologies, USA
devices can be manufactured 7. Rapid discharge at severe rate
 EPCOS, Germany
 Evans Capacitor, USA (for automobiles)
with capacitance values of several increases the temparature
 ELNA, USA (for automobiles) hundred farads and even several 8. Complete discharge takes a few hours
 Cooperet, USA (for automobiles) thousand farads. Such values can- 9. Operating temperature is up to 65
 Kold Ban International, Australia not be imagined in conventional degrees
10. It loses 2 per cent energy per day in
 CAP-XX, Australia capacitors. This translates into a
 Ness Capacitor, Korea self-discharge
new paradigm in energy storage,
 Tavrima, Canada
especially for short-duration, high-
 ESMA, Russia (for power quality applications)
power applications. Depending ment of high starting current, thereby
on their design and construction, reducing the load on the battery,
use of chemical energy for charge stor- the specific power of supercapacitors increasing its life and reducing the
age based on electrostatic principle, can be ten to 100 times higher than of battery size.
which makes them complex to develop a battery. Leading car manufacturers such
and use. Supercapacitors are mainly used as Volvo, Opel, Rover, Renaults,
for pulse power supply requirements. Volkswagen and Daimler-Chysler
Supercapacitors: Ideal for When you start the engine of an auto- are using supercapacitors in their
short-duration high-power matic-start vehicle, the starter motor electric vehicles and electric hybrid
applications draws a very large current from the vehicles. Regon’s plot in Fig. 1 shows
Supercapacitors, also called ultra- lead-acid battery, which reduces the how supercapacitors (Boostcap by
capacitors or electrochemical double- life of the battery. This high current Maxwell) and lithium-ion batteries are
layer capacitors, have been the subject requirement is due to high starting approaching top right of the graph. If
of focused R&D efforts for the past two current of the starter motor. Such a this combination achieves power and
decades. This has been facilitated by high current is not required except energy density of the internal com-
remarkable advances in material sci- for starting, which unnecessarily in- bustion engine, your dependency on
ence and nanotechnology that allow creases the battery size requirement. the IC engine and hence fossil fuels
construction of stacks of thin intercon- A supercapaitor can fulfil the require- will reduce. Various electrical energy

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Fig. 4: Construction of a supercapacitor

4. Use of different electrolyte and


Application areas
1. Quick-charge applications—
charging in seconds and discharging
in minutes (required for power tools
and toys)
Fig. 2: Power flow in a typical electric vehicle with supercapacitor 2. Electric vehicles (starting/regen-
erative braking)
power flow in typi- 3. At sharp turns on electric trac-
cal electrical vehi- tion
cles. The combina- 4. Short-term support for uninter-
tion of a primary rupted power system with generator
energy source and backup
an ultracapacitor 5. Solar array (energy-rich, poor
takes care of the power source)
average power and 6. Supporting power buses while
peak power de- switching
mand, respectively. 7. Computer memory backups—
Fig. 3 shows the low-current, long-duration require-
concept car having ments
the Li-ion battery
pack with ultraca- Summing up
Fig. 3: Concept car using Li-ion battery pack with ultracapacitor module pacitor. The Li-ion Energy storage is a persistent prob-
battery will replace lem in electrical systems. There are
the conventional many energy storage systems, but
Li-ion Battery vs lead-acid battery electrical energy can be stored only
Electrochemical or Supercapacitor in the near future. in two fundamentally different ways:
Characteristic State-of-the-art Electrochemical Considering vari- battery and capacitor. Scientists and
Lithium-ion battery capacitor ous parameters of engineers are looking for devices
Charge time 3-5 minutes 1 second the supercapacitor, beyond these.
Discharge time 3-5 minutes 1 second it will be the next- It has been found that a superca-
Cycle life <5000 @ 1C rate >500,000 generation EES de- pacitor along with conventional bat-
Specific energy (Wh/kg) 50-100 5 vice. tery can be a better electrical energy
Specific power (kW/kg) 1-2 5-10 storage device than the battery alone.
Design Though the supercapacitor technol-
Cycle efficiency (per cent) <50% to >90% <75% to >95%
parameters ogy is at present in infancy, it stands
Cost/Wh $0.5-1/Wh $10-20/Wh
Cost/kW $50-150/kW $15-30/kW 1. Trade-off be- a bright chance of becoming the next-
tween energy and generation electrical energy storage
power device. 
storage devices are shown in Regon’s 2. Time constant (ESR and capaci-
plot of power density versus energy tance value) The author is a professor in Electrical Engineering
density. 3. Output voltage and output cur- Department of Government College of Engineer-
Fig. 2 shows the block diagram of rent ing, Pune

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