“I get a little skeptical when somebody thinks they’ve got a silver bullet for every application, because that’s just not consistent with reality,” said Andrew Burke, an expert on energy systems for transportation at University of California at Davis. But a stealthy startup has belied him with its new ultracapacitor-based energy storage system, which could make conventional batteries obsolete. The Texas-based company, EEStor developing what some are calling a “game changing” energy-storage technology announced that it has reached two production milestones and is on track to ship systems very soon for use in electric vehicles.
EEStor’s ambitious goal, according to patent documents, is to “replace the electrochemical battery” in almost every application, from hybrid-electric and pure-electric vehicles to laptop computers to utility-scale electricity storage. The company claims that its system, a kind of battery-ultracapacitor hybrid based on barium-titanate powders, will dramatically outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market in terms of energy density, price, charge time, and safety. What is more, it will also pack 10 times the punch of lead-acid batteries at half the cost and without the need for toxic materials or chemicals, according to the company. Advantages from this apparatus, therefore, are enormous and, for many, unbelievable. Such a breakthrough has the potential to radically transform a transportation sector already flirting with an electric renaissance, improve the performance of intermittent energy sources such as wind and sun, and increase the efficiency and stability of power grids.
EEStor’s system—called Electrical Energy Storage Unit or EESU—is based on an ultracapacitor architecture that appears to escape the traditional limitations of such devices. The company has developed a ceramic ultracapacitor with a barium-titanate dielectric, or insulator, that can achieve an exceptionally high specific energy—that is, the amount of energy in a given unit of mass. For example, the company’s system claims a specific energy of about 280 watt hours per kilogram, compared with around 120 watt hours per kilogram for lithium-ion and 32 watt hours per kilogram for lead-acid gel batteries. This leads to new possibilities for electric vehicles and other applications, including for the military.
The company announced recently that this year it plans to begin shipping such a product to Toronto-based ZENN Motor, a maker of low-speed electric vehicles that has an exclusive license to use the EESU for small and medium-size electric vehicles. By some estimates, it would only require $9 worth of electricity for an EESU-powered vehicle to travel 500 miles, vis-a-vis $60 worth of gasoline for a combustion-engine car. EEStor claims that using an automated production line and existing power electronics, it will initially build a 15-kilowatt-hour energy-storage system for a small electric car weighing less than 100 pounds, and with a 200-mile driving range. The vehicle, the company says, will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes.
The EEStor company, based in Cedar Park, Texas, USA, has also signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor by revenue as of 2008, is an American aerospace, defence, security and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. The agreement gives Lockheed an exclusive international licence to use EEStor’s power system for military and homeland-security applications—everything from advanced remote sensors and missile systems to mobile power packs and electric vehicles. The technology, Lockheed said in a statement, “could lead to energy independence for the warfighter”.
Above all, what is more important is the fact that in the contemporary global scenario of global warming, this battery breakthrough will prove to be more helpful than equipping warfighters and vehicles with ever-improved technology. With a global war on global warming going on, most of us would prefer this new battery technology to help us in this particular fight.