Elon Musk is the man responsible for the Tesla Roadster, the electric vehicle at the vanguard of the EV revolution. So when he says that capacitors, not batteries, are the future of EV”s, people should take note and listen.
On Wednesday, Musk told a Cleantech Forum in San Francisco that ““If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries. But capacitors.” Capacitors are not unlike batteries, in that they store energy for later usage. Unlike your standard battery tough, capacitors deliver quick, intense bursts of energy rather than dolling it out in a slow, metered fashion. As a result, capacitors (or ultracapacitors) can deliver more power, faster, and survive more discharge/recharge cycles than current batteries can. I’m no engineer, so I’ll leave the explanation of exactly what a capacitor is to Wikipedia. But Elon Musk seems to think that capacitors, perhaps in conjunction with batteries, will represent the biggest breakthrough in the acceptance of electric vehicles.
Musk originally went to California to study capacitor technology in advanced ship building, and it seems the entrepreneur hasn’t forgotten his roots even though his company builds cars using huge lithium-ion battery packs (though they could very well be researching capacitors too.) Companies around the world are toying with capacitors in electric vehicles, and there is even a bus system in China that runs on short bursts of capacitor energy before being recharged at stops along its route. Then there is ZENN Motors and the “mythical” EESU energy storage system, which makes me think that we’re still a long ways away from actually applying this technology en masse.
It’s important though that car makers don’t get bogged down in just one technology. While battery tech has advanced rather rapidly in the past few years, capacitors show a lot of promise too. Which way is the right way to go?
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.