Energy storage breakthrough could boost EV range and slash charge time

Researchers have developed a material more energy-dense than lithium-ion.

Electric cars could soon have as much range as petrol and diesel cars -- and recharge in a matter of minutes -- thanks to what researchers are calling a "breakthrough" in energy storage technology. Teams from Bristol University and Surrey University have created a new material for supercapacitors, which store electric charge, that could see EVs recharge in as little as 10 minutes compared to the eight hours it can take for EVs with lithium-ion batteries. And according to the researchers, it boasts enough energy density to see EVs surpass even the top range of current leading models, such as Teslas. Elon Musk himself has previously said a breakthrough in EV technology would likely come from supercapacitors, rather than batteries.

The technology was originally being developed for mobile devices -- researchers wanted to create a transparent polymer for Google Glass-like applications -- but once the team discovered the energy storage potential of the material it refocused its efforts. Now it believes the polymer could be more energy-dense than lithium ion, holding 180 watt-hours per kilogram, while lithium ion holds around 100-120 watt-hours per kilogram.

However, the technology has some drawbacks. Its capacity to charge quickly means it loses charge relatively rapidly, too. Leaving a supercapacitor car on your driveway for a month would see it lose most of its charge, for example. So it's likely the first cars offering this tech would come with a small conventional battery, too. Nonetheless, while it may still be early days, this technology has the potential to eradicate some of the biggest barriers to EV take-up. According to Dr. Donald Highgate, research director for company Superdielectrics, which worked with the universities on the project, "It could have a seismic effect on energy, but it's not a done deal."