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Power breakthrough promises new future

UK scientists have made a breakthrough in energy technology that has the potential to let electric planes and cars travel the same distance as petrol vehicles and be recharged in the same time it takes to fuel a conventional tank.

The development, if adopted by the mobile power industry, would pave the way for ultra slim mobile phones, tablets and a host of other devices to be recharged in seconds once they had lost power.

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Breakthrough in super-capacitor science promises electrically powered future for planes and cars

“The technology could have a seismic impact across a number of industries, including transport, aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors,” said a spokesman, for Surrey University.

“It could also revolutionise electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol – a process that currently takes approximately 6-8 hours to recharge.”

The technology, developed by scientists at the University of Surrey, Augmented Optics and the University of Bristol which has been hailed as ‘ground-breaking’, has adapted methods used to make soft contact lenses to develop a method for providing mobile energy between 1,000-10,000 times more powerful than the current super-capacitors that until now have been the best available alternative for transport.

The advantage of super-capacitors for transport is that they charge and produce energy very quickly but pound for pound they can only a 20th of the amount of energy that a conventional battery can.

The breakthrough by the scientists, which was announced in London at a confidential briefing at the Institution of Engineering Technology headquarters in Savoy Place could pave the way for electric aircraft able to take advantage of the new research into the energy storage potential of the polymers developed by the UK team.

“There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra-capacity supercapacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments,” said Dr Brendan Howlin, of the University of Surrey who led the research with Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the University of Bristol’s Department of Aerospace Engineering.

The work by the team was based on a research project carried out by Dr Donald Highgate of Augmented Optics at Surrey University 40 years ago into the development of polymers for soft contact lenses. Dr Highgate initiated the research into the energy potential of the material with Surrey University’s Chemistry Department, that discovered the energy retention capabilities of the large organic molecules that bond together into a three-dimensional network.

“While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics.  We believe that this is an extremely exciting and potentially game changing development,” said Dr Hamerton.

The team is now actively seeking to develop the new technology, said Jim Heathcote, Chief Executive of Augmented Optics and Supercapacitor Materials.

“The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future.  We are now actively seeking commercial partners to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra high energy density storage devices.”