We often debate whether technology will save us or whether we should rely on simpler tried and true methods. However, sometimes when something comes out of the labs that is so different, such an improvement, one thinks that perhaps the geeks in the white coats might actually pull it off. An example might be Lightning Flashlight, an ultracapacitor flashlight that recharges in 90 seconds, is good for fifty thousand power cycles, contains no heavy metals and is RoHS compliant. Essentially, it is a light for life.
TreeHugger has been waiting for EEstor's ultracap for years, complaining about their lack of transparency, while IVUS Energy Innovations has been developing its FlashPoint ultracap and happily writing about it, and is bringing it to market. At $169 it isn't cheap, but it is designed for police and fire use and is competitive in that market.
They don't have any issues about explaining how it works, either; one distributor, 5.11, even has a blog.
What are the differences between a battery and a ultracapacitor?
A battery stores energy through a chemical reaction. The flow of electrons (i.e. electricity) causes an oxidation/reduction reaction to occur between a metal and an electrolyte. This reaction effectively stores the electrical energy by forming a new compound. When energy is taken out of a battery, the chemical reaction goes the other direction. Of course since nothing is perfect, this process does not store 100% of the energy going in nor release 100% of the energy going out. Extreme temperatures dramatically effect this reaction resulting in poor battery performance. Also, this reaction gives off heat which increases the temperature of a battery resulting in low performance or reduced life. Every time this reaction takes place a battery looses its ability to transfer energy. After about 500 to 1000 cycles a typical battery needs to be replaced.
An ultracapacitor does not store energy through a chemical reaction.
The electrons that enter into an ultracapacitor get stored in tiny pores that exist in the carbon material on each electrode. The carbon material is like a sponge storing electrons through millions of nooks and crannies. Because the electrons are not converted into a chemical compound, they are quickly stored, and there is very little degradation. In fact, an ultracapacitor can be cycled 50,000 times without losing more than about 20% of its original energy.
So they have working, available ultracaps, now let's see them wire a few of them together and run a car with them. IVUS Innovations via Dvice
More ultracaps on TreeHugger:
EEStor + Skunk Works = Big News
EEstor Update: People Are Losing Faith
The Economist on Ultracaps and Tribrids
EEStor Ultra Capacitors: The Science Explained