Ultracapacitors have been used in limited applications in recent years, but the storage cells are beginning to see acceptance as an alternative to batteries. Automakers are starting to employ the technology, which should help increase volumes and lower prices.
Ultracapacitors provide short bursts of energy when it's needed, making them suitable in applications such as Honda's fuel cell vehicle. That research car uses ultracaps to provide an energy boost needed to get up hills or accelerate into traffic.
Long lifetimes are one of the key reasons Honda and others are starting to give ultracaps a closer look. They survive more than 500,000 discharge-recharge cycles, typically enough to match a vehicle's lifetime.
High-end vehicles with a multitude of electronic features are also using the technology. While some automakers have added a second battery, a few are planning to use ultracaps as a way to meet demand when most of the functions kick in at once. A number of sources say that ultracaps will be in 2008 model year vehicles.
Maxwell Technologies Inc. of San Diego, CA, recently unveiled standard 15V packages designed for automotive and industrial electrical systems. The modules house six D-cell-sized ultracaps, providing 350 farads so that auto networks won't crash when power requirements exceed the battery's capabilities.
Though ultracaps discharge in 15 sec or so, they recharge almost that fast, meeting the temporary requirements in autos and other areas. "This is a life extender for 14V systems. It provides a power boost, filling in the gaps when there are heavy loads," says Richard Smith, Executive VP of Strategic Business Development.
The shift to standardization should help trim costs and increase usage, which has been limited since the technology debuted in the 1970s. Frost & Sullivan predicts that the market will see solid double-digit growth over the next several years, soaring from $55 million last year to $181 million in 2009. Vendors include Epcos Inc. of Iselin, NJ, and NessCap Co. of Kiheung, Korea.
One Size Fits All: Maxwell Technologies' standard
ultracap modules lower price for temporary power sources, boosting
application potentials in various
While automotive is now a key target market, industrial applications such as
forklifts are also emerging quickly. Ultracapacitors are being considered for
applications that use robotic carriers to haul payloads ranging from
semiconductor wafers to heavy equipment in factories and warehouses, Smith
added. In silicon fabs, they're also being used to back up critical equipment
when power outages occur, fitting into equipment to provide another layer of
protection beyond uninterruptible power supplies and generators.
They're also being employed in conjunction with another alternative energy technique, the windmill. "Large wind generators are a boom area. In this application we help adjust the pitch of the blade," Smith says. Ultracapacitors are used to power motors that turn or trim in the blades when wind conditions change.
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