With the ultracapacitor market set to grow to £3bn within the next four years, Ulrik Grape, CEO of NAWA Technologies tells us why this pioneering French start-up is ideally placed to take advantage of increasing global demand.
There’s no doubt about it: energy storage is entering a revolution. Never before have we needed more innovative ways to harness energy and do it in a way that is fast, repeatable and environmentally-friendly. While lithium-ion and solid state batteries have dominated headlines over the last decade, ultracapacitor technology is making huge advances and the race to get new technology ready is hotting up.
Today, the global market for ultracapacitors is worth around €500m, but this is estimated to grow to around €2-3bn by 2023. The main driving factor behind this growth is the breadth of the technology’s potential. From manufacturing to urban mobility, smart energy management and the Internet of Things (IoT), there is significant demand from a growing number of sectors. However, use cases have been limited by the fact that while ultracapacitors can charge and discharge very quickly – and do so many times over without degradation – they cannot hold anywhere near as much energy as other batteries, such as lithium ion.
And that is where NAWA Technologies stands out. Our ‘Ultra Fast Carbon Battery’ is a new generation of ultracapacitor that utilizes trillions of carbon nanotubes, each coated with a unique material comprised of graphene and carbon. The Ultra Fast Carbon Battery can provide five times the power density or three to five times the energy density of an existing ultracapacitor. The cells can be charged in a matter of seconds, making them ideal to replace lithium ion batteries in power tools in factories where rapid recharging between tasks makes the device lighter and work faster to complete, and when used in volume you could even power a small lightweight city car, giving it a range of around 50km from a 10-20 second charge.
Our cells use aligned carbon nanotube electrodes in extremely high density, around 10 billion per square centimeter. These incredibly small electrodes can also be coated with another material that has a higher intrinsic capacitance (ability to store more charge per mass unit) than carbon itself. This architecture increases the energy density (charge per unit mass), with minimal decrease in the power density (the speed at which charges can move). The result is a form of energy storage that has incredibly fast charge and discharge times, a long lifetime and is safer to use than conventional batteries.
When NAWA Technologies was spun out of the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA), back in 2013, one of our primary goals was to create a more environmentally friendly power storage solution. A big part of this was taking advantage of the predominantly carbon composition of our cells. As carbon is a rather benign element, it makes recycling much easier than alternative battery technologies.
One promising application for our ultracapacitors is in the automotive sector with something known as regenerative braking. Essentially, it is the conversion of the vehicle’s kinetic energy into stored electrical energy. If the vehicle uses lithium-ion cells, the recharge rate is bottlenecked by the battery’s chemistry – meaning that only a small fraction, around 20 per cent, of the braking energy is recovered. If we can add a system of carbon capacitors, that recovery rate could be increased as high as 90 per cent, providing a significant boost to efficiency and vehicle range. This is not just restricted to battery electric vehicles, our Ultra Fast Carbon Battery could prove equally useful in a wide range of vehicle powertrains, from hybrid to fuel-cell.
To investigate the idea further, we conducted some testing with partners in Formula E. We found that combining our ultracapacitors with lithium ion batteries, we could reduce the size and mass of the required battery pack by 33 per cent, while simultaneously extending the range to nearly double. I see that as a powerful demonstration, not just of our ultracapacitor technology but the way it which it can integrate and complement other methods of energy storage. It is clear that the applications of such a technology would not be restricted to the automotive industry, it could be pivotal in manufacturing, public transport, sensors for the Internet of Things, renewables, oil and gas, maritime, aerospace, mining – the list goes on.
Following the recent completion of our technical development program, we are now focusing on large-scale production and serving the market. Many valuable insights were gained throughout the development of our technology and we are looking forward to beginning operational production at the end of the year. This is thanks to us having raised €9 million in funding, allowing the imminent installation of manufacturing equipment at our facility close to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.
The new production facility is the first of its kind and volume manufacturing will steadily build up to over 100,000 ultracapacitor cells per month. The cells produced will be used in power tools on production lines and automated guided vehicles, where they will replace lithium-ion systems, providing significantly faster charging and a longer service life.
We are also looking into structural batteries, energy storage cells that simultaneously function as a structural element. Due to the low weight and high strength of carbon ultracapacitors, they can be very easily integrated into carbon fibre structures. This means that virtually any carbon composite structure can be used to store energy. Our technology’s extended lifecycle also means that these structural batteries would be functional throughout the lifetime of the object or structure.
While we will undoubtedly face challenges as we scale up to meet demand, we’re in the right place at the right time. Perhaps the most exciting part of this journey is that we have only explored a fraction of the technology’s potential. Fast, efficient and green energy storage is what the world needs and the possibilities for its future uses are limitless.
The ees International Magazine is specialized on the future-oriented market of electrical energy storage systems, not only from a technological-, but also a financial and application-oriented point-of-view. In cooperation with ees Global, the ees International Magazine informs the energy industry about current progress and the latest market innovations.
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