Ground-breaking research from the University of Surrey and Augmented Optics, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has developed potentially transformational technology which could revolutionise the capabilities of appliances that have previously relied on battery power to work.
From transport and biosensors, to energy generation and consumer electronics, our lives have increasingly become dependent on battery power. As such, the search for new energy storage technology has been a focus for universities and businesses the world over.
A new development by Augmented Optics could translate into very high energy density supercapacitors, making it possible to recharge mobile phones, laptops or other mobile devices in seconds.
The technology could potentially have a seismic impact across a number of industries, revolutionising electric cars, for example. It currently takes approximately 6-8 hours to recharge an electric vehicle back to full battery power; however, this development could see them recharged as quickly as it takes to refuel a regular non-electric vehicle with petrol.
Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that supercapacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation. This announcement could be a significant stepping stone in seeing Musk’s vision a reality.
The technology was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago.
The research programme was conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry where the project was initiated by Dr Highgate.
Supercapacitors, an alternative power source to batteries, store energy using electrodes and electrolytes. and both charge and deliver energy quickly, unlike conventional batteries which do so in a much slower, more sustained way.
Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles. However, because of their poor energy density per kilogramme (approximately just one twentieth of existing battery power technology), they have – until now – been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.
The research team was co-led by the Principal Investigators Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Brendan Howlin. Dr Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol, where the electrochemical testing to trial the research findings was carried out by fellow University of Bristol academic – David Fermin, Professor of Electrochemistry in the School of Chemistry.
Dr Hamerton explained: “While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics.”
Chief executive of both Augmented Optics Ltd and Supercapacitor Materials Ltd, Jim Heathcote, commented: “The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future.
“We are now actively seeking commercial partners in order to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra-high energy density storage devices.”