Researchers can now see the way ions react inside supercapacitators...and that means changing the way things charge.

It's been about 200 years since the first battery was invented, and every major holiday--as AAAs are being shoved into remote controls and gaming consoles and miniature robotic dogs--confirms what everyone has been feeling for the past few decades: the battery as we know it should be obsolete. And yet the familiar battery continues to be a component in every consumer-facing electrical device on the market, though disguised as thinner or smaller than previous incarnations. 

But researchers at Cambridge, along with their French collaborators, have now figured out how to see inside supercapacitators and this may herald the end of the battery. While traditional batteries involve chemical reactions to generate and store electrical current, supercapacitators have positive and negative electrolyte ions that stick to the surfaces of the electrodes when the supercapacitor is being charged. The process of sticking and hopping that occurs within a supercapacitator happens much faster than the chemical reactions in a battery, so supercapacitators charge much more quickly. 

"Previous theories had been made by computer simulations—no-one's observed this in 'real life' before," said Dr. John Griffin, a researcher in the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge.

Now that researchers are able to see the supercapacitator process at work, they're able to more fully understand what's happening at an atomic level. That means they'll be able to eventually experiment with manipulating the size of the holes in the electrode and ion properties to alter the charging mechanism.

This new knowlege could spell the eventual end of chemical batteries and could mean a significant difference in the way electronics are built. There's also the safety issue: anyone familiar with repairing mobile devices can confirm how dangerous a leaking battery is. With supercapacitators, there's no danger of chemical leakage. This new science could also mean that, finally, electrical cars replace their fossil fuel counterparts. 

Looks like there may well be an end in sight to the trusty AAs.


SOURCE: Nature Materials




  • aromring 2015-09-11

    Interesting article. In the self-interest of being picky smile let me point to one perceived inconsistency. You wrote:

    “With supercapacitators, there’s no danger of chemical leakage.”

    However, supercapacitors are electrochemical (, thus contain a liquid electrolyte that can potentially leak out. No?

    • alexnbk 2015-09-18

      Not only that, capacitors or supercapacitors explode, making not the same but sometimes more damage.

  • Jampo 2016-01-08

    Then again, what about the niggly issue of energy density?  How would these compare to batteries, both in practical long life use and the cost to actually get there.  Something like BMW’s new rear view camera’s?  Done just because it could be?  The heck with it, the consumer can pay.  Or done in such a way that the consumer has no choice but pay.  All that coruscates with effulgence be not aurous.