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back to article Battery vendors push ultracapacitor wrappers to give Li-ions more bite

A pair of battery vendors are hoping that a new design which incorporates the use of an ultracapacitor material will help to improve and extend the life of lithium-ion battery packs. Paper Battery Company and TWS say they have developed a system which wraps a conventional lithium-ion battery pack in a sheet of ultracapacitor …

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"They can now allow processors to work at full power"

Oh, because right now I'm only using what, 75% power ?

This may be an interesting idea, I don't know, but that sentence has some powerful cognitive dissonance. An ultracapacitor will allow burst mode functionality for sure, but only for as long as it holds energy to do so. And I don't suppose we're talking megawatts, here.

Once said capacitor is empty, the processor (and the rest of the power-hungry elements of which there are a few more than just that one) will have to rely on plain old socket power, or power from the rest of the battery.

And the ultracapacitor will not recharge itself faster than current can get to it, no matter what magical graphene/unicorn horn you put in it.

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Re: "They can now allow processors to work at full power"

Yeah, it can only be burst mode.

But consider that you have a lot of processors nowadays that can sit idle and then slowly ramp up with demand. That could, potentially, be limited by the power supply capabilities and you might see some power / stability problems if you ramp up too fast for the battery alone to cope with.

There a burst-mode capacitor might come in handy, especially if you can control how long is allowed before the next state-change so the capacitor has a chance to recharge.

But, honestly, ultracapacitors are a really great idea - but we're so struggling with the practical implementation that we're desperately trying to find a middle-ground solution for the early prototypes that might a) come in handy, b) fund the rest of the ultracapacitor development. I don't think this is it.

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Re: "They can now allow processors to work at full power"

I'd say "not wanting to be picky" but actually I do.... increasing wattage (power) for a short period is exactly what an ultracapacitor will provide, what it doesn't do is increase the number of joules (stored energy capacity) of the device.

It might allow you to withdraw the stored energy in a more efficient profile which might then have the effect of making the hybrid device deliver more energy in real world usage.

In any case, I do think that thin ultracapacitors are likely to start popping up all over the place as they will support form factors which batteries cant.

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Anonymous Coward

Old tech

In PC board design, it was usual practice to put fast ceramic capacitors in parallel with electrolytic capacitors used to deal with local fluctuations in the power line. Electrolytics have higher capacitance for a given volume but also have a lower frequency response. In decoupling fast op amps, the capacitors might be 47u electrolytic and .1u ceramic, enough to ensure that the rail voltage didn't drop significantly due to a fast swing at the output. Of course, multilayer boards with power planes simplified that aspect of design rather a lot, but when I started in electronic design we had to scream and kick to be allowed even a double sided board.

In the case of lithium batteries, I guess it is more a case of reducing internal power dissipation during surges, due to the internal resistance. Repeated current spikes cause more internal heating than the same power delivery in constant current, so will shorten battery life.

So I'm not quite sure why the ultracapacitor shouldn't simply be a separate component in the phone, as most modern ones don't have user replaceable batteries. However you do it, it's an extra manufacturing step somewhere. Perhaps someone is hoping to get it in as a retrofit.

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It makes sense to me

Yes, mounting large capacitors is always difficult. Mounting a large capacitor using the mechanical battery mounts is a great idea, if that's what you want the capacitance for.

But I don't think they are trying to sell the idea to Apple. This is for people who need to trade off the cost of an expesive design against the cost of an expensive battery.

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fire power

so we are wrapping a small fire bomb in a detonator?

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Re: fire power

so we are wrapping a small fire bomb in a detonator?

No - there's no mechanism that could cause the ultracapacitor voltage to exceed that of the battery (other than the battery spontaneously developing an internal short-circuit, which is almost certain to result in it catching fire shortly afterwards, ultracapacitor or no)

I am slightly concerned that this device might be useful to a terrorist, i.e. the power surge which it needs to cope with being the power draw of a detonator on a bomb when its timer reaches zero. However, I guess they could buy a separate ultracapacitor, and wire it in parallel with a battery.

Advantage of integrating the battery and ultracapacitor? Packaging, I'd guess. No dead space between two separate components.

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Re: fire power

>so we are wrapping a small fire bomb in a detonator?

Given the only working alternative in pocket sized devices to battery power is methanol (unless you count wind up which would probably power a smartphone for about 5 minutes) I'll take that potential fire bomb over a guaranteed flammable and toxic liquid.

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Joke

Re: fire power

"I am slightly concerned that this device might be useful to a terrorist, i.e. the power surge which it needs to cope with being the power draw of a detonator on a bomb when its timer reaches zero. However, I guess they could buy a separate ultracapacitor, and wire it in parallel with a battery."

If ultracapacitors are outlawed, only outlaws will have ultracapacitors.

Definitely catchier than "If ultracapacitors are terrorised, only ultracapacitors will be terrorists."

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Mushroom

Re: fire power

I am slightly concerned that this device might be useful to a terrorist, i.e. the power surge which it needs to cope with being the power draw of a detonator on a bomb when its timer reaches zero.

Pah. A bomb-maker would use a battery that's well capable of delivering sufficient oomph to the detonator by itself. And they won't care about shortening the battery life by suddenly exceeding the allowable current draw for maximum longevity, especially since they'd be shortening battery life anyway by blowing it into tiny little pieces.

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Ifs

If the ultracapacitor has enough energy storage capability and can respond well to transient charge/discharge, this could also be useful for storing large charging surges that the Li-ion would be incapable of accepting efficiently. (e.g regenerative braking surges, etc?). Despite this apparent advanatge, it doesn't seem to make sense to integrate the ultracapacitor, with monitoring and control electronics, as part of the battery housing, unless you're very sure you have a mass-market application which is well understood and for which the control electronics, ultracapacitor size and battery capacity have been 'tuned'.

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could you use this tech to give electric cars their own equivalent to a 'fast and the furious' style petrol nitro boost?

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Nothing yet known to man has that capacity!

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Nothing yet known to man has that capacity!

Er ... no? You can go out and buy an ultracapacitor module that'll store a megajoule. That's a million watt-seconds, or 100kW for ten seconds. 100kW is comparable to a decent car engine at full throttle, so that's ten seconds of doubled power output. What does nitro do for that engine? I'm no expert, but I'd guess twice the power, and more than a ten-second boost is likely to damage something.

The ultracapacitor may not be a practical system, but very far from impossible.

BTW what is the technology behind KERS on F1 cars?

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"could you use this tech to give electric cars their own equivalent to a 'fast and the furious' style petrol nitro boost?"

Just don't build it into a plate bolted to the floor.

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"The ultracapacitor may not be a practical system, but very far from impossible.

BTW what is the technology behind KERS on F1 cars?"

Team it up with a flow battery, assuming they can make one small enough, and you have potential way of providing a rapidly refuel-able power source that can also handle peak loads.

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So far it seems to have only been used to start them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3x_kYq3mHM

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Anonymous Coward

Wrong:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iV2h_-Lw64

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"BTW what is the technology behind KERS on F1 cars?"

I think KERS storage used Li batteries*. As from 2014 engines (new season starts this weekend), it's no longer KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), but just ERS as it now has 2 components, harvesting data from braking (ERS-K equivalent to old KERS) and exhaust heat (ERS-H). But I think underlying storage is still Li batteries.

*This was not specified in the rules, AFAIK some teams notably Williams explored the flywheel route of storing energy but all teams eventaully settled on Li batteries as teh best available tech

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Actually I meant the capacity to make cars do what they make them do in Fast & Furious, like give it 22 gears and magic a 25 mile runway out of thin air.

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Mushroom

Re: What does nitro do for that engine?

Nitrous oxide delivers more oxygen to the engine so more fuel needs to be delivered to take full advantage of the extra oxygen. And, yes, improperly done this is an expensive, esoteric way to blow your engine up.

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Joke

Ask Toyota...

The 600 volt system in Prius models 2010 and newer store braking energy so quickly that they could only be capacitor augmented batteries... as usual, they aren't saying...but 40 hp stored instantly is no battery I have ever seen including the military 24 volt Nicads used in UH-2D helicopters with a 1300 ampere charging rate...

IMHO= wire size / pc trace cross sectional area is often used to control current flow...think psuedo low ohm resistor...RS

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> extended the efficiency of the battery as much as 15 per cent while also increasing battery life

It increases battery life for those applications that do not use the surge of power functionality ... those that do use a surge of power will of course drain the battery quicker ...

Maybe we will be able to have a tubo boost in our mobile phones (ARM), like back in the day on my i386 or more recently with the intel chips.

KITT, where are you ? Pick me up ...

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"It increases battery life for those applications that do not use the surge of power functionality ... those that do use a surge of power will of course drain the battery quicker ..."

Yes, but that's not the point. The more we demand from a battery, the more it heats itself.

Think about someone opening a site from the mobile. There will be bursts of power, when the browser process all that HTML and CSS. And there will be quieter periods, when the browser is waiting for data or the user is reading the page.

The busier periods will generate more heat in the battery, as it will deliver more energy per second. With an ultracapacitor the draw is smoothed out, with the battery providing less energy for second, in a longer time frame. This will make the battery usage more efficient, since the heat does not increases linearly with the power draw.

No, it will not help someone playing games. But will help normal usage: spikes for loading a browser, surges from scanning wireless networks and whatnot.

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Good idea, but maybe not an optimal solution

Given that the ultracapacitor can only provide power transient peaks, I assume that this will require some form of close control with the device being powered where it's capable of sustained high demand. For instance, on a smartphone it might be necessary to "throttle-back" the processor in order to reduce power consumption to the sustainable level. I suppose that it could be done without a full control interface (e.g. the device could monitor demand using "dead reckoning", rather than a closed-loop control system, but I don't think such a system would be optimal).

Given this logic has to be embedded into the device's management systems, then it would surely make more sense to embed this in the device. Then the battery can remain just that, which means not having to invent a whole new interface. It would also be cheaper where batteries are replaceable, rather then embedded. Also, this is something that device manufacturer's could implement without a new battery specification. Indeed, maybe they already do it.

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A level physics confusion?

So, I recall from A level physics (*) that you will always waste 50% of the energy if you charge a capacitor from a fixed voltage. Basic idea being that energy in cap is 0.5 x C x V x V but that the energy supplied from the fixed voltage source is Q x V = (C x V) x V. I guess these days you can use some clever electronics to break the assumption of fixed voltage, but even so there must be some losses, right? As well as the increased complexity of the combined cap/battery/electronics.

* - a while ago, deduceable from the fact that I also have a physics O-Level ...

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Re: A level physics confusion?

Always some losses: yes. Not always 50% though, that's for charging through a resistor from zero volts and discharging back to zero. With a battery in parallel with a capacitor the voltage difference between the battery and the capacitor will remain small at all times (short of a gross overload, which is likely to start a fire unless of extremely short duration).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A level physics confusion?

In effect a filter is needed - battery followed by inductor in the power line followed by capacitor. The inductor is needed to prevent the high frequency load spike reaching the battery. These are actually available as tiny circuit board modules, but with ordinary capacitors, not large high discharge rate versions.

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Bah!

Seems to me that what's really required is a lithium battery with integrated fire extinguishing capability so we may safely fly the skies without fear that if a shoebomber doesn't get us the avionics bay will.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bah!

Dynamite is mainly trinitrotoluene dispersed in a clay to make it relatively safe to handle. The downside, of course, is that your dynamite - or your safe lithium battery - takes up an awful lot more room than the unsafe version, and what the manufacturers want is ever smaller size.

The demand for really big phones is encouraged by the phone manufacturers because there is so much more space for the battery,making design an awful lot easier. But they would still balk at doubling or tripling the battery size.

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Re: Bah!

Dynamite is Nitroglycerine dispersed in clay. Pure nitroglycerine is dangerously touchy stuff - it will detonate in response to any slight impact. Cheap and easy to make, though. You can hit dynamite with a hammer and it won't explode.

TNT is used for filling bombs and HE shells. It's stable until subjected to a shockwave from a detonator (though it decomposes and becomes less safe after many years' ageing). Trivia question: what commonly-used substance was invented by terrorists for terrorist purposes? Answer: ANFO, ad-hoc explosive made by mixing Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil. It's now widely used by the mining industry. Drill holes, fill with fertilizer, then add fuel oil, finally detonators. Much cheaper than "real" explosives and safe enough for in-situ preparation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bah!

Ah, thank you - I got the nitro compounds interchanged. It's a long time since I actually did this stuff.

Was ANFO really invented by terrorists? My textbook suggested that it was invented by the mining industry in an attempt to produce a safer explosive, in the sense that it produces a relatively flame-free pressure wave and so is better at not detonating methane. Ammonium nitrate itself is hardly innocuous, and one of the most destructive explosions on record was caused by a shipful of it going off of its own accord.

Nowadays the world is full of people being careless around lithium batteries, which have almost the energy storage density of mining explosives. Despite that, they are pretty safe.

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Re: Bah!

Ammonium Nitrate was known to be dangerous for decades. That's why it's normally mixed or denatured to keep it from becoming explosive. The Texas City explosion occurred due to fire helping to destabilizie the product. The men behind Oklahoma City found a way to renature the fertilizer to make it a useful part of homemade ANFO (not an easy thing to do). The military don't use the stuff themselves mainly because they have something better in RDX.

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Re: Bah!

"one of the most destructive explosions on record was caused by a shipful of it going off of its own accord."

Are you sure it went off of its own accord ? Ships also contain fuel oil. Accidents do happen.

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Re: Bah!

He meant it was accidentally detonated. The AN was held in the ship in a fertilizer form (normally considered denatured), but the fire in the ship (exacerbated by fuel oil and some ammunition on board) combined with the confines of the ship destabilized the fertilizer, resulting in a spontaneous detonation.

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Re:Dynamite is ...

What The Fundament does dynamite (which is actually nitroglycerine absorbed into sawdust or kieselguhr - aka 'diatomaceous earth' - Stevie have degree in Chemical Sciences from University of East Climategate and long history of self-immolation with improvised chemical energy release methodologies before that and so cannot be baffled with bullshit on such basic pyrotechnic lore) have to do with lithium batteries?

Do keep up old chap and back to the Organic Chemistry text for some much-needed swotting too. Come back when you've blown up your garden shed.

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Re: Bah!

"The men behind Oklahoma City found a way to renature the fertilizer to make it a useful part of homemade ANFO (not an easy thing to do)"

So hard to do that it was documented in a farmers handbook as a way of blowing treestumps out of the ground. Said book was produced by the US federal govt and copies were in McVeigh's possession.

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Anonymous Coward

Would it not be essentially the same to put the ultra capacitor on the PCB of the device itself rather than part of the battery? Perhaps better as that would work with replacement batteries and different battery chemistries?£

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Anonymous Coward

See post above labelled "Old tech"

I think the answer is "Yes."

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"Would it not be essentially the same to put the ultra capacitor on the PCB"

Yes. If there were significant advantages having a super capacitor in parallel with an Li battery it would already be done. A battery containing a super capacitor must also contain less battery.

There may be small $/volume/weight savings integrating a super capacitor in a battery but are those savings enough to make the difference between the advantage of a parallel super capacitor worthwhile or not? I doubt it.

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By wrapping the supercap around the battery you have more surface area and can make them in higher values than in conventional packages. You can also use them to mitigate charging spikes, which are just as bad as discharge spikes with current Li-ion technology (if not worse).

There's nothing stopping external supercaps being used, but they still have to be packaged somehow.

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I guess battery wrapping V separate unit would rather depend on the optimum profile for a supercap.

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The extending battery life I suspect is talking about service life as well, it will last longer in service as you aren't thrashing it. You are also using both power sources in their sweet spot. I assume there are some electronics built in to manage the draw on both. If you decrease the amount of aggressive discharge from the lion cell then you decrease the heating and the likelihood of the battery becoming a bomb.

From the description they aren't losing a great deal of space for the capacitor.

I think the truth will be in the discharge not the heating..

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Ultracapacitors wrapped around a Li-on battery.

What kind of jolt can we expect if the external cover is damaged?

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Don't Li-Ion batteries like to burn?

And one of the companies involved with this is named "Paper Battery Company"? I think I already see a problem...

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Ultra?

"Capacitance from 150 - 3000 milliFarads" For the "Ultra" tag I was expecting something in the multiple Farad range..

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Re: Ultra?

For something that wraps around a phone battery, 3 farads is approximately equivalent to 1 fuckload.

Have you seen the size of the one-farad caps that go into cars with obnoxiously huge speakers to stop the bass from causing the lights to dim? Try the size of a litre bottle of pop.

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Re: Ultra?

That's because it has to endure higher voltages and higher currents.

1F at 5V can be much smaller.

cpc.farnell.com/1/3/1f-capacitor

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Re: Ultra?

Oh I know about those, and that's still a pretty big lump to stick in a phone. If you can get three times that, in a paper-thin wrapper around the phone battery?

Joyful times, perhaps.

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Re: Ultra?

With 1mm layer around the battery surface it looks quite possible. Maybe a half mm will do.

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