03.02.2017

U.K. Scientists Use Contact Lens Material To Make Electric Car Batteries More Efficient

One of the main turnoffs for the electric car is how long it takes to recharge the battery. Petrol based cars are simply cheaper, quicker, and more convenient. However, this situation might change dramatically in the ensuing years.

It might sound too good to be true, but a few researchers from Bristol University, the University of Surrey, and the company Augmented Optics believe they can make it easier to re-charge an electric car than to re-charge a smartphone. What people will probably find even more shocking is the fact that these researchers are using materials taken from contact lenses to make this possible.

These researchers are working on what's known as a "supercapacitor." You're probably only familiar with a supercapacitor firsthand if you've visited Chinese cities like Nanjing recently. A few Chinese cities have electric buses that use supercapacitors. The only real problem people have with these buses is that they have to stop frequently to re-charge.

To understand how supercapacitors work, and to understand how this team is improving upon traditional supercapacitors, we first need to understand a bit about traditional battery charging.

All batteries work by storing up energy and then helping charged ions move around. The reason it takes so long to re-charge a traditional battery is because it takes a great deal of time to both produce and separate ions.

The most popular battery on the market nowadays is the lithium battery. As the name suggests, these batteries use lithium ions to retain their charge. Unfortunately, lithium is a relatively rare product and it has been known to explode unexpectedly on occasion. As demonstrated recently with Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones issues. These phones exploded due to the instability of their lithium batteries.~

So, what makes supercapacitors so super? Well, supercapacitors are able to charge devices with absolutely no chemical change going on inside. Instead, supercapacitors use changes in magnetic property, which results in atomic polarization.

Most supercapacitors are able to store about one tenth of the energy a lithium battery does. However, these new supercapacitors could store anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times more energy for the size of whatever product is being used. These designers were able to achieve this result by focusing on the device's filling, for which they used a soft material found in contact lenses.

The material used here is often called a "gel," and it was first shown to the general public by Donald Highgate about 40 years ago. These designers combined the gels with conducting polymers in their supercapacitor. They've found that this combination makes a flexible material that allows for water. The fact that it can take up water is very important for the designers because that means it will help prevent accidental fires.

The next step for researchers is to test these supercapacitors in electric cars. Scientists say they want to first place these supercapacitors alongside batteries to increase the battery life. After those tests come through positive, researchers will replace the batteries entirely.

Right now U.K. researchers are working alongside the manufacturer SuperCapacitor Materials to make this dream a reality. This company, which was founded in 2016, is a subsidiary of Augmented Optics. Augmented Optics is headquartered in Bassingbourn, Royston, Hertfordshire.


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