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.”

Magic goop scoop


[Video Link] The age old problem of picking up a blob of liquid without altering its shape has been solved!

Details about the technology are not available on Furukawa Kikou’s website (perhaps because the patent is pending), but the tool appears to incorporate a conveyor belt design. According to the company, the magic goop scoop was originally developed for use in bakery production lines, but its unique ability to cleanly handle semi-liquids makes it suitable for a wide range of applications.

Magic goop scoop

Canadian Tories’ campaign pledge: We will spy on the Internet

Michael Geist has timely analysis of the Canadian Conservative party’s campaign promise to pass a massive “crime and justice” bill within 100 days, if re-elected. The bill — which has never been debated or had hearings or public consultation — includes massive, extrajudicial bulk surveillance over Canadians’ use of the Internet.

More important than process is the substance of the proposals that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada. The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.

The first prong mandates the disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight.

The second prong requires Internet providers to dramatically re-work their networks to allow for real-time surveillance. The bill sets out detailed capability requirements that will eventually apply to all Canadian Internet providers. These include the power to intercept communications, to isolate the communications to a particular individual, and to engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions.

Having obtained customer information without court oversight and mandated Internet surveillance capabilities, the third prong creates a several new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data.

The Conservatives Commitment to Internet Surveillance

(Image: big brother, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 59744536@N00’s photostream)

Robots inspired by nature: the “DelFly” bionic robot (photo)

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Engineering school students look at the DelFly bionic robot during a demonstration at the International Workshop on Bio-Inspired Robots in Nantes April 7, 2011. Some 200 bio-robot technicians from 17 countries participate in the three-day event to show the latest developments in robots inspired from the animal world. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

The DelFly micro is only 10 centimeters from wing to wing, and weighs just a little over 3 grams. Its developers call it “the smallest flying ornithopter carrying a camera in the world.” Below, more photos of the little guy in action, including the 0.4 gram camera it carries.

(courtesy delfly.nl)

Continue reading “Robots inspired by nature: the “DelFly” bionic robot (photo)”

Software pioneer and ENIAC programmer Jean Bartik dies at 86

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The New York Times has published an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik, “one of the first computer programmers and a pioneering forerunner in a technology that came to be known as software.” She died on March 23 at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, NY, at age 86. She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the Eniac, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, regarded as the first all-electronic digital computer. (via Jim Roberts)

Photo, via Wikipedia: “Two women operating the ENIAC’s main control panel while the machine was still located at the Moore School. ‘U.S. Army Photo’ from the archives of the ARL Technical Library. Left: Betty Jennings (Mrs. Bartik) Right: Frances Bilas (Mrs. Spence)

US government shutdown could mean Space Shuttle launch delay

Here’s one odd effect a government shutdown would have: NASA would likely have to scrub the launch of space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission, currently scheduled for April 29. If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree to budget terms by midnight tonight, Washington will effectively run out of money and the government will close. If that happens, according to a NASA memo distributed today, only operations critical to protect life and assets would continue. So, operations to support the astronauts on the International Space Station would go on during a shutdown, as would any operations critical to prevent the loss or damage of NASA assets. And if a launch were in progress when the shutdown went into effect, that launch would continue. But for new shuttle launches, and other new projects: an indefinite delay.

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Memo (PDF) and NASA furlough plan here (thanks, Miles O’Brien!).

Worldreader: ebooks for kids in the developing world

I’ve recently lent my support to Worldreader, an innovative nonprofit program that distributes ebook readers to children in the developing world and then exposes them to a large library of donated texts from writers from across the world, as well as newspapers and other materials. I was delighted to give them access to all my books (of course), and put them in touch with a large group of other kids’ and young adult writers who were happy to do the same (including my hero Daniel Pinkwater, who travelled in and wrote about Kenya and has a real love of Africa).

WR: What advice do you have for kids in developing countries who are just beginning to read and only have recently gotten access to books because of technology advancements?

Cory: I have a couple of pieces of advice about reading. One is that the most dangerous thing in the world is someone who has only read one book. The great thing about reading is that you can triangulate your ideas among lots of different authors, different times, or different place. When you read widely and broadly it shows you that everything is relative. It shows that there is a lot of ways of looking at things, and often times, problems can become solutions if looked at creatively.

The other piece of advice I would give them about reading electronically is to not allow their collections to be tied to one device or platform. Devices come and go, but data can live forever. The only way you can maintain access to them is if you insist on the ability and the right to move the books into any format or any platform you want to.

Writers Changing Lives: A Chat With Cory Doctorow

Fake-make: counterfeit handmade objects from big manufacturers

Make Magazine has started to publish my old “Make Free” columns online; today, they’ve posted “Untouched By Human Hands,” in which I speculate about whether (and when) big manufacturing companies will start to produce fake “hand-made” objects, and what makers might do in response.

Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is “Bob from Des Moines” be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully “hand-wraps” a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?

I wouldn’t be surprised. Our species’ capacity to commodify everything — even the anti-commodification movement — has yet to meet its match. I’m sure we’ll adapt, though.

We could start a magazine for hobbyists who want to set up nostalgic mass-production assembly lines that use old-fashioned injection molders to stamp out stubbornly identical objects in reaction to the corporate machine’s insistence on individualized, 3D-printed, fake artisanship.

Untouched By Human Hands

(Image: Weaving by the Pool, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 87739302@N00’s photostream)

Marketplace for hijacked computers


Brian Krebs went browsing in an underground proxy marketplace, where criminals rent time on hijacked computers to other criminals who want to use the compromised machines as launching-grounds for untraceable networked attacks. Krebs traced down some of the people whose computers were up for rent and let them know that they were being bought and sold on the underground.

Michelle Trammell, associate director of Kirby Pines and president of TSG, said she was unaware that her computer systems were being sold to cyber crooks when I first contacted her this week. I later heard from Steve Cunningham from ProTech Talent & Technology, an IT services firm in Memphis that was recently called in to help secure the network.

Cunningham said an anti-virus scan of the TSG and retirement community machines showed that one of the machines was hijacked by a spam bot that was removed about two weeks before I contacted him, but he said he had no idea the network was still being exploited by cyber crooks. “Some malware was found that was sending out spam,” Cunningham said, “It looks like they didn’t have a very comprehensive security system in place, but we’re going to be updating [PCs] and installing some anti-virus software on all of the servers over the next week or so.”

Is Your Computer Listed “For Rent”?