Researchers achieve a 10x supercapacitor energy density breakthrough

Supercapacitors can charge almost instantly, and discharge enormous amounts of power if needed. They could completely erase the Achilles heel of electric vehicles – their slow charging times – if they could hold more energy. And now Chinese and British scientists say they’ve figured out a way to store 10 times more energy per volume than previous supercapacitors.

A team split between University College London and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has released a study and proof of concept of a new supercapacitor design using graphene laminate films and concentrating on the spacing between the layers, the researchers discovering that they could radically boost energy density when they tailored the sizes of pores in the membranes precisely to the size of electrolyte ions.

Using this design, the team says it’s achieved a massive increase in volumetric energy density. Where “similar fast-charging commercial technology” tends to offer around 5-8 watt-hours per liter, this new design has been tested at a record 88.1 Wh/l. The team claims it’s “the highest ever reported energy density for carbon-based supercapacitors.”

That figure is toward the high end of what a typical lead-acid battery stores, but while lead-acid batteries charge very slowly and offer fairly low power density, the supercapacitors can charge very, very quickly and offer massive power densities around 10 kilowatts per liter.

In addition, the supercapacitors appear to have a long service life, retaining 97.8 percent of their energy capacity after 5,000 cycles, and they’re very flexible, performing almost exactly the same when bent 180 degrees as when they were lying flat.

There is a but. There is always a but. Indeed, there’s three big buts here, beyond the fact that this is still at the research proof of concept stage.

The first is that these supercaps are still far less dense than a top-shelf lithium EV battery. Closest estimate I can find on what Tesla is running is a 2018 estimate of 877.5 Wh/l, which would mean a supercap would have to be 10 times the size of a Tesla battery pack to offer the same range. Not gonna happen. Mind you, EVs won’t have to offer 430-mile (700 km) range figures once they’re even quicker to top up than a petrol car. The vast majority of car use would easily be less than 100 miles (160 km) in a day, and a short stop every hour and a half on a long trip might be no big deal for many drivers.

What’s more, we’ve written before about the extraordinary things you can do when you pair lithium batteries with supercapacitors in a hybrid arrangement. This kind of density development could increase the amount of supercapacitor you might be able to run in such a setup, further maximizing the benefits.

The second issue: supercapacitors tend to leak energy rather than storing it very well. You might find your EV out of power if you leave it off the charger for a week or two. Although to be fair, when they charge so fast, you might not mind.

And the third issue: this thing is made of graphene, everyone’s favorite wonder-material which is set to revolutionize everything from electronics to mosquito protection to aviation to hair dye to concrete to running shoes to bulletproofing to loudspeakers and every other field it’s been researched in… But to date, nobody’s producing it in mass commercial quantities at a price that makes huge graphene superconductor cells feasible.

Still, the researchers are optimistic. “Successfully storing a huge amount of energy safely in a compact system is a significant step towards improved energy storage technology,” said senior author and Dean of UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences, Professor Ivan Parkin (UCL Chemistry). “We have shown it charges quickly, we can control its output and it has excellent durability and flexibility, making it ideal for development for use in miniaturized electronics and electric vehicles. Imagine needing only 10 minutes to fully-charge your electric car or a couple of minutes for your phone and it lasting all day.”

Cheap, easy, no-mess cold-brew coffee 4

I’ve just finished teaching week four of the amazing Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego; in addition to spending a week working closely with some very talented writers, I came up with a new and cheap way to make astounding cold-brew coffee.

I bought a $10 “nut-milk” bag and a plastic pitcher. Every night before bed, I ground up about 15 Aeropress scoops’ (570 ml) worth of espresso roast coffee — the $20 Krups grinder is fine for this, though I wouldn’t use it with an actual espresso machine — leaving the beans coarse. I filled the bag with the grind, put it in the bottom of the empty pitcher like a huge tea-bag, and topped up the pitcher with tap water (distilled water would have been better — fewer dissolved solids means that it’ll absorb more of the coffee solids, but that’s not a huge difference). I wedged the top of the bag between the lid and the pitcher and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, I took the bag out of the pitcher and gave it a good squeeze to get the liquor out of the mush inside. Add water to the pitcher to fill to the brim and voila, amazing cold-brew. You can dilute it 1:1 or even further.

Cleanup was easy: invert the bag over a trashcan or garbage disposal, rinse off the bag, and you’re ready to go.

This produced very, very good coffee concentrate, with only a little grit settled into the bottom 3mm of the pitcher (easy to avoid). It may just be the cheapest and easiest cold-brewing method I’ve yet tried.

MagicJack dials wrong number in legal attack on Boing Boing


Gadget maker MagicJack recently lost a defamation lawsuit that it filed against Boing Boing. The judge dismissed its case and ordered it to pay us more than $50,000 in legal costs.

The Florida-based VOIP company promotes a USB dongle that allows subscribers to make free or inexpensive phone calls over the internet. I posted in April 2008 about its terms of service—which include the right to analyze customers’ calls—and various iffy characteristics of its website.

We had no idea that it would file a baseless lawsuit to try and shut me up, that CEO Dan Borislow would offer to buy our silence after disparaging his own lawyers, or that MagicJack would ultimately face legal consequences for trying to intimidate critics.

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MagicJack Legal Documents

Collected here are legal documents relating to MagicJack’s defamation lawsuit against Boing Boing. The presiding judge ruled its case a SLAPP — a strategic lawsuit against public participation — and ultimately entered a judgment against it and made MagicJack pay most of our legal costs.

There’s a lot to read, so some excerpts are included. Highlights include the wild expense of fighting off lawsuits, MagicJack’s litigators saying they didn’t want to see discussion of the case on the “blogosphere,” and it now being a matter of court record that I produce ‘lusty and imaginative’ expressions of contempt.

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