New Trends Predicted for Ultracapacitors in the Energy Storage Industry

by | Dec 5, 2011

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As 2012 quickly approaches, it is time to take a look at upcoming trends in the energy storage industry. Moving into next year ultracapacitors will see increased use in transportation, smart grid, server memory applications and consumer electronics applications.

As the need for ultracapacitors increases, customers are looking for entire systems rather than individual cells or modules. For the customer, purchasing a system makes for a much simpler installation process because the system is pre-packaged and ready for use. Implementation is easy as customers can drop in the ultracapacitor system, simply replacing the battery system without worrying about cell balancing. The manufacturer’s engineering team takes care of the technical system design details, relieving customers of hiring their own energy storage engineering expert. Overall, the ease of ultracapacitor systems contributes to their increased use.

Increased fuel efficiency with hybridized transportation

Demand is anticipated to grow for hybridized asymmetric concepts, or an ultracapacitor and battery combination, in the transportation and commercial industries. Ultracapacitors offer a highly efficient, high energy solution, with high performance in wide-ranging temperatures and a long lifespan with little to no maintenance. Using ultracapacitor technology reduces the vehicle cost and increases energy efficiency in transportation applications such as start/stop vehicles.

Start/stop applications are anticipated to be the next biggest market for ultracapacitors. Vehicles that use start/stop technology, known as micro hybrids, are able to save fuel and reduce emissions by shutting off the engine when the vehicle is stopped in traffic. Ultracapacitors provide the quick start needed to re-launch the engine as the vehicle moves out of traffic. With strict CAFE standards on the way, auto manufacturers are searching for ways to achieve higher mileage. Using start/stop technology with ultracapacitors provides the best, lowest cost option to do so.

In addition, we will see more ultracapacitors used in public transportation such as hybrid busses. Ultracapacitors help to recapture energy, for example through regenerative braking, and increase fuel efficiency. The demand for major metropolitan areas around the world, including Asia, South America and Europe, to increase their green initiatives through public transportation continues to grow. Fleet managers need to increase bus and light rail transportation while finding ways to limit their carbon footprint, reduce energy consumption and reduce pressure for grid demand. Electrification of transportation such as bus and light rail is the best way to increase fleet efficiency. With the energy storage benefits, such as high power density and extremely long cycle life provided by ultracapacitors, hybridized public transportation is set to become the industry norm.

Energy storage for the smart grid

The need for energy storage is directly correlated to the increase in renewable energy, and both are expected to grow in 2012. Efforts will increase to hybridize ultracapacitors and batteries for energy storage for smaller regional consumption and to reduce dependency on grid. This includes municipal, industrial park and remote locations. As such, the grid is paying closer attention to ultracapacitors and looking for ways to pair them with batteries to be able to have high energy and power densities.

Ultracapacitors help in storage applications such as pitch control in wind turbines. Although widely in use today, next year will see increased opportunities for new and replacement applications in the Asia Pacific wind turbine market.  More offshore wind farms (6MW and above) will also increase demand for ultracapacitor based pitch control systems due to reliability, low total cost of ownership, and increasing energy and power densities.

Server memory and power backup

Ultracapacitors will more often be used in server memory applications. In Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) server applications, ultracapacitors are poised to replace lithium-ion batteries to provide memory and power backup to the unit. As opposed to the short two year lifespan of batteries, ultracapacitors have a much longer lifespan at 10 years which greatly reduces the required maintenance, but more importantly allows for a high reliability in these applications where short outages can cost millions of dollars per minute. Ultracapacitors are an onboard uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for server racks, and are installed directly on RAM chips in order to handle power spikes. This makes servers work more efficiently. Ultracapacitors are especially beneficial when helping with short-term ride-thru in the case of power outages or sags in available power.

Ultracapacitors are more beneficial than batteries in consumer electronic applications

More hand-held consumer electronics, such as toothbrushes, shavers, clippers and lights, will look to ultracapacitors to provide a fast charge. Ultracapacitors are fully capable of providing the necessary fast charge, and, with their long life-span, will typically outlast the life-span of the device. This makes for little to no required maintenance and less waste in landfills, creating a greener consumer product.

In addition, hand-held medical devices that require LED lights can benefit from the faster and more efficient power provided by hybrid capacitors. The hybrid capacitor can charge the device in as little as 60 seconds and enough power is provided to generate light that will last a whole day without recharging. More engineers and manufacturers will adopt hybrid capacitors into their products through 2012, enabling them to meet customer demands.

The future of the energy storage industry

The energy storage industry is changing rapidly with increased renewable energy opportunities and further-developed technology. Supporting this, ultracapacitors are primed for a high adoption rate in 2012. Numerous applications can benefit from high power, cost efficient ultracapacitors.

Chad Hall ([email protected]) is founder and a vice president of sales at Ioxus, Inc., focusing on European sales.  Previously, he spent 14 years with Ioxus’ parent company, Custom Electronics, Inc. (CEI).  His extensive mechanical engineering and business experience helped establish Ioxus from funding to factory to launch. 


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