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On the other hand, EEStor’s system–called an Electrical Energy Storage Unit, or EESU–is based on an ultracapacitor architecture that appears to escape the traditional limitations of such devices. The company has developed a ceramic ultracapacitor with a barium-titanate dielectric, or insulator, that can achieve an exceptionally high specific energy–that is, the amount of energy in a given unit of mass.

For example, the company’s system claims a specific energy of about 280 watt hours per kilogram, compared with around 120 watt hours per kilogram for lithium-ion and 32 watt hours per kilogram for lead-acid gel batteries. This leads to new possibilities for electric vehicles and other applications, including for the military.

“It’s really tuned to the electronics we attach to it,” explains Weir. “We can go all the way down from pacemakers to locomotives and direct-energy weapons.”

The trick is to modify the composition of the barium-titanate powders to allow for a thousandfold increase in ultracapacitor voltage–in the range of 1,200 to 3,500 volts, and possibly much higher.

EEStor claims that, using an automated production line and existing power electronics, it will initially build a 15-kilowatt-hour energy-storage system for a small electric car weighing less than 100 pounds, and with a 200-mile driving range. The vehicle, the company says, will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes.

The company announced this week that this year it plans to begin shipping such a product to Toronto-based ZENN Motor, a maker of low-speed electric vehicles that has an exclusive license to use the EESU for small- and medium-size electric vehicles.

By some estimates, it would only require $9 worth of electricity for an EESU-powered vehicle to travel 500 miles, versus $60 worth of gasoline for a combustion-engine car.

“My understanding is that the leap from powder to product isn’t the big leap,” says Ian Clifford, CEO of ZENN, which is also an early investor in EEStor. “We’re the first application, and that’s thrilling for us. We took the initial risk because we believed in what they are doing. And energy storage is the game changer.”

The key challenge, however, is to ensure that the barium-titanate powders can be made on a production line without compromising purity and stability. “Purification gives you better production stability, gives you better permittivity, and gives you the high voltages you’re looking for,” says Weir. “We’ve now got the chemicals certified and purified to the point we’re looking for.” (Better permittivity of the insulator improves the amount of charge that can be stored without letting the current leak across the two plates.)

EEStor announced this week that the first automated production line for its powder has performed as required and that permittivity will meet or exceed expectations. It also said that it achieved 99.9994 percent purity for its barium-nitrate powder, a crucial ingredient in the dialectric. San Antonia-based Southwest Research Institute independently confirmed the results.

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Credit: ZENN Cars

Tagged: Business, batteries, electric cars, electric vehicle, automobiles, lithium-ion, ultracapacitors, laptops, hybrid engine

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