Automotive Energy Recuperation

The increasing number of electrical components in a modern car are too much for batteries alone, so future vehicles will feature a form of built-in energy recuperation such as ultracapacitor technology.

Today’s vehicles are no longer designed just with the intension of getting passengers from point A to B. Engineers and designers understand consumers want practical applications such as power steering, central locking and fuel economy along with being connected to their devices and having uninterrupted access to data and content. This creates a wide range of high-power applications and factors that engineers must account for, as each require low-cost and long operating-life energy-storage systems in order to achieve optimal performance.

The automotive market understands that all the electrical components in a modern car are too much for batteries alone to sustain the long lifecycle needed and they are simply not equipped to respond in time during peak points of demand. This is why all future vehicles will feature a form of energy recuperation built in. This recovery will occur through various energy-storage systems (ESS), which is a component—or network of components—that contain a blend of energy-storage technologies used to collect the energy necessary for various functions.

An ESS is an application of ultracapacitor technology, sometimes referred to as supercapacitors. Either on their own or when combined with other types of energy-storage devices, such as batteries or fuel cells, ultracapacitors meet the requirements of user power demand. Regardless of the combination, ultracapacitors expand the vehicles charge and discharge capabilities into shorter response times, extend the life of other, lower-power elements and open up new options for energy-storage applications.

With government legislation driving higher energy demands, automotive engineers will begin designing vehicles with an electric “Turbo Boost” accessory to allow for smaller engines to be used. Ultracapacitors will provide acceleration and assist the traditional turbocharging process as needed. Automotive manufacturers are concluding that using ultracapacitor technology may result in lighter-weight vehicles with lower costs for consumers due to better fuel efficiency. This combination will go a long way in helping engineers meet the challenges presented by the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, which call for automakers to lower vehicle emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

The benefits of energy recuperation extend beyond engine productivity. Hybrid capacitors, a mixture of an ultracapacitor and a lithium-ion battery, support the high-cycle, wide temperature range and high-power demands of applications like automotive subsystems. Take memory back-up for example. When a vehicle’s battery is disconnected, the computer system loses power. With a hybrid capacitor, the system will retain its power and its information. It’s this type of reliability and consistency engineers are looking for. Nowhere is this more crucial than when it comes to driver and passenger safety. Many of the safety features in automobiles today require a high amount of power. As such, engineers must be able to ensure that the power supply feeding these applications can be delivered at a moment’s notice.

The market for ultracapacitor is expected to grow rapidly, particularly in Japan and Europe. By 2020, ultracapacitors are expected to be a $7 billion field, which represents a 56 percent compound annual growth rate. The high growth means cost of materials, manufacturing and overall pricing will fall significantly, making ultracapacitors an even more attractive energy-storage solution.

As vehicles and consumers become smarter, automotive engineers need to keep pace. All of the components, devices and connectivity embedded into our cars are for nothing if the energy needed to power them at the time of demand is lacking or non-existent. Energy recuperation via ultracapacitors offers the most reliable and greatest return on investment of any ESS available today. The key issue is to understand how to balance the energy and power demands from the ultracapacitor and the battery to support not only the vehicle itself, but the desirable features we all demand.


Chad Hall is co-founder and VP of marketing and product management for Ioxus, Inc. Find Chad on Twitter @PowerHall_UCAPS and @Ioxus.

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