Energy Storage elonmusk

Published on March 22nd, 2011 | by Christopher DeMorro


Tesla CEO Bets on Capacitors, Not Batteries, For Future of EV’s

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?

Source: Gigaom | Image: Brian Solis

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.

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About the Author

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. When he isn't wrenching or writing, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Carl Gay

    The article doesn’t back up the title at all. In what way is he “betting on” capacitors? Just because he’s studying them doesn’t mean he’s betting on them. You also say he hasn’t forgotten his roots, but this too is a bald assertion because there’s nothing to back it up. It’s not that I doubt you, it’s just…where’s the beef?

    • Christopher DeMorro

      @ Carl

      In response to your comment I’ve added a bit more beef ;)

      And by all means maintain your sense of skepticism. Don’t believe anything you read on the Internet.

  • Naiche

    Capacitors may have their place, but it’s way too early to tell what is going to happen in the future. They are good for transferring smaller amounts of energy from braking and accelerating, but batteries have a longer term energy storage function that are difficult to match with capacitors.

    In other words, there need to be some serious breakthroughs before we can say anything close to capacitors replacing batteries.

  • http://Web Chris H.

    The best EDLCs available today have an energy density of about 30Wh/kg, whereas the best LiPo batteries have an energy density of about 200Wh/kg. In other words, to achieve the same energy storage capacity using EDLCs instead of LiPo batteries, you would need about 7X the mass of capacitors.
    You would need to see a ten-fold increase in energy density in capacitors just to catch up to where Li-ion batteries are today.

    And btw, Elon is not “the man responsible for the Tesla Roadster”. The company was started by Martin Eberhard & Marc Tarpenning in 2003. Martin was CEO of Tesla Motors and was responsible for developing the Roadster up until August 2007, when EM staged a coup d’etat in the boardroom. Elon got rid of Martin by buying up enough of the shares so that he could install who he wanted on the board of directors (including his brother Kimbal and his close friend, Antonio Gracias). With the BoD stacked with friends & allies, Elon had no problem removing Martin from the CEO position, and then he had Martin fired a few months later. If you want to do some real investigative journalism then I suggest that you explore the real history of Tesla Motors, instead of just regurgitating the revisionist spin that EM and his PR machine dishes out.

    • http://Web Junipur

      I wouldn’t mistake what’s on this site for anything resembling journalism.

  • http://Web Peter Landy

    Which way is the right way to go?

    The answer is easy. EV technology will use them both at the same time to enhance power and mileage.

  • http://Web Tim Cleland

    I wonder if batteries and capacitors can be used together to take advantage of both of their strong points. Would there be any advantage at all to use the computer RAM model (where you have a small amount of super fast RAM as cache on the CPU and a much larger amount of slower ram for real storage)? That is, have the capacitors there for quick charge throughput when it’s needed, but the batteries have the real high volume store of energy. The batteries charge the capacitors (relatively slowly) during low energy demands so that the capacitors are ready for high energy situations.

  • loaddown

    The best example, now working, that I know of using ultracaps and batteries is the AFS Trinity retrofit prototype. It is presently running off the shelf components. They also have flywheel storage in their arsenal of tech capacity.
    The merging of these technologies is the stepping stone to cost and convenience acceptability.

    Latest news that shows the future:

  • Pingback: Tesla Chief Bets on Capacitors Over Batteries for Future of Electric Vehicles | Inhabitat - Green Design Will Save the World

  • Asko Kauppi

    I liked this, and agree with his betting. You might correct the “tough” -> “though” typo. Thx.

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