New storage technology vs. battery

15.03.2021

Driving momentum for industry: opportunities offered by supercapacitors

About the author: Sergey Ageev is the General Director of TEEMP

Supercapacitors are becoming increasingly indispensable power sources in a number of fields, providing solutions to specific tasks associated with the output of a significant amount of energy. What are the advantages and main effects of supercapacitors for various industries?


Supercapacitor market prospects (in bln USD). Source: Morder Intelligence/p>

A number of industries have recently shown an interest in supercapacitors, which could be characterized as a flexible, environmentally-friendly and powerful solution for energy storage and output. This is contributing to the development of the market which, according to Research and Markets, will have grown from 498 mln USD in 2018 to almost 1.3 bln USD by 2024. Asia-Pacific countries are showing the most activity in this regard. They are followed by the USA and European countries, where supercapacitor plants are also in operation. The Russian market is only beginning to develop: we estimate its current volume at approximately 1 bln rubles.

Intermittent source

A supercapacitor is an intermittent power source designed as a cylindrically or prismatically shaped multilayer electrochemical apparatus. It has both a cathode and an anode, forming an electrode layer applied to foil or aluminum. Supercapacitors are designed for fast current output as opposed to continuous current delivery. Although it doesn’t boast high specific energy – only 1/20 that of a storage battery – the supercapacitor does feature high specific power – up to 10 kW/kg. In other words, the supercapacitor can give or take a high volume of energy at a time. The number of charge/discharge cycles also differs – in the case of a supercapacitor, it reaches a million or more, whereas with an electrochemical storage system, it’s only 20,000 to 25,000 (depending on the system and operating conditions).

A supercapacitor is an intermittent power source designed as a cylindrically or prismatically shaped multilayer electrochemical apparatus. It has both a cathode and an anode, forming an electrode layer applied to foil or aluminum. Supercapacitors are designed for fast current output as opposed to continuous current delivery. Although it doesn’t boast high specific energy – only 1/20 that of a storage battery – the supercapacitor does feature high specific power – up to 10 kW/kg. In other words, the supercapacitor can give or take a high volume of energy at a time. The number of charge/discharge cycles also differs – in the case of a supercapacitor, it reaches a million or more, whereas with an electrochemical storage system, it’s only 20,000 to 25,000 (depending on the system and operating conditions).

Moreover, the organic electrolyte has a wider range of operating temperatures at which the supercapacitor can work. Normally, the device operates at conditions ranging from -45 to +60 degrees Celsius. Some models are able to work in a more extreme environment. For instance, we manufacture supercapacitors with various temperature ranges: 45… +60, 60…+65, 20…+80 degrees Celsius. This benefit is attributable to the electrolyte.

Here again, storage batteries compare poorly. Despite the fact that China – the leader in the lithium battery market – has announced the manufacture of a lithium storage battery with an operating temperature of -40 degrees Celsius, the market has thus far offered no real proof of concept. The American company Relion, however, has launched low-temperature batteries that can be safely used even at -20 degrees Celsius.

Conventional application

Supercapacitors are widely applied where high power must be handled within a short period of time but within a wide temperature range. In general, the device helps address a number of issues in two industries: energy and transport.

Failure or stoppage of critical equipment.

Manufacturers often incur damages due to equipment failures. They can result both from the start of power-consuming units and from unstable external power supply. Failures lead to the full or partial stoppage of production –80% of voltage loss occurs in up to five seconds. Supercapacitor-based current maintenance systems are able to maintain stable voltage for approximately 40 to 60 seconds, thereby allowing for the uninterrupted operation of equipment.

Surprisingly, supercapacitor-based systems even minimize financial risks. Continuous process plants, for example, can reduce their reject rate stemming from process interruptions. It’s no secret that today’s advanced equipment is particularly sensitive to voltage. While a +/-10% deviation may be permitted by GOST, modern equipment begins to deviate at a variance of 5%. An electrical surge can bring a microchip production facility to a grinding halt. And the affected products will be rejected, adding to further expenditures – process interruptions usually entail significant costs for any manufacturer. For example, UC Rusal, a Russian aluminum company, estimated its losses due to one-hour electrical issues at three facilities at 39 mln rubles.

Sometimes equipment stops due to the activation of relay protection under network disturbances caused by factors such as lightning strikes. The automatic transfer-switch systems operating in such cases bring about dead time of 1 to 2 seconds, while equipment shuts down in just one second. It then must be switched on again and the entire production line often has to be restarted.

Excessive consumption of expensive resources with a high GHG emission level.

Despite reduced CO2 emissions last year, Global Energy Trends 2020 reports that the issue is still an important agenda item. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a typical passenger car produces roughly 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Emissions can be reduced by fuel savings through recuperation, which allows reactive power to be properly utilized.

This is vividly exemplified by break energy recuperation, which is becoming the most consequential application of supercapacitors worldwide. The principle is simple – the supercapacitor accumulates energy and then gives it up during acceleration.

Today, it is actively being used in public transport: such systems are being installed on urban public transit. In Minsk, for example, Belkommunmash has released a hybrid bus with a diesel-driven generator and a buffer supercapacitor storage device. The supercapacitor accumulates recuperated brake energy and then gives it back during acceleration, thereby reducing fuel consumption and GHG emissions. As a result, the bus saves 9.8 l of fuel per 100 km of travel, while its efficiency is 27% higher than that of a vehicle fitted only with an internal combustion engine.

A similar solution was developed by Mazda for passenger cars back in 2011.

Automotive start system failures

Conventional batteries often let down car owners in winter. Electrolytes can freeze up at low temperatures, preventing the chemical reactions needed to produce an electrical current. Supercapacitors optimize the performance of any vehicle equipped with an internal combustion engine: the temperature range of a supercapacitor module typically begins at 40 degrees, meaning that the vehicle can be started even at critical temperatures whereas a battery could fail even at -30. Supercapacitors aren’t sensitive to heat either: Eaton, an American manufacturer, offers models that start an engine at -40 to +85 degrees Celsius.

Engine starts can sometimes be prevented by energy-intensive onboard devices that run storage batteries down by consuming a lot of power. That’s why supercapacitors are employed, for example, on Patriot police ATVs fitted with lots of extra equipment: GLONASS, radio, walkie-talkies, cameras and tracking devices. All that equipment strains the battery, whose charge may simply not be enough to start the vehicle, especially in the cold months.

In general, the supercapacitor installation trend has been developing in the West for quite a while. The American producer Velozzi equipped its models with an intermittent power source back in the 2010s. The luxury car sector has also adopted the trend. Lamborghini, for example, uses a supercapacitor as an energy reservoir.

In which fields could the use of supercapacitors be the most effective?

Supercapacitors could yield benefits in a number of different industries. According to some forecasts, the automotive industry will emerge as the main application. The automotive sector is projected by Research and Markets to occupy the greatest share of the supercapacitor market between 2020 and 2025. At the same time, however, intermittent power sources could also find application in the chemical, pharmaceutical, food processing and oil & gas industries.

In particular, supercapacitors are able to provide for the stable operation of drilling rigs. At issue is the fact that oil & gas facilities typically use power equipment based on hot-gas reciprocating units, which are characterized by low flexibility. If an immersible pump fails, for example, two million rubles in losses are estimated to result from withdrawing the pump from the borehole. The production process may also lose steam in a boiler-house, where it can take a minimum of half an hour to restart the equipment.

Supercapacitors have also found use in transport power applications where a recuperation system has been installed at a traction substation. For example, this is common practice in subways with their typical repeating pattern – the train alternates between accelerating and stopping.

Supercapacitors have also found use in transport power applications where a recuperation system has been installed at a traction substation. For example, this is common practice in subways with their typical repeating pattern – the train alternates between accelerating and stopping.

What’s hampering implementation

There are three obstacles to the development of supercapacitors.

Resistance by personnel. Signavio’s survey revealed that more than 80% of all employees were not ready for changes in their duties. The adoption of supercapacitors could certainly have an impact on their scope. Furthermore, skepticism towards cutting-edge advancements cannot be ruled out.

Disregard for lifecycle cost. This problem is typical of the Russian market, since domestic businesses rarely take lifecycle costs into consideration. As a result, these companies are missing out on the opportunity to seize the benefits of an intermittent power source.

High price. Supercapacitors are more expensive than primitive but proven devices. Despite their longer lifetime and improved performance, businesses tend to opt for rapid payback over strategic solutions.

However, despite the existing obstacles to its development, the supercapacitor market is continuing to grow. We will probably see the greatest activity in the transport sector, although industrial enterprises with strategic vision will also pay increasing attention to the technology’s potential.

Source: Nezavisemaya gazeta