Science 2 min read

More Powerful Supercapacitors now Carbon-Free



Conventional supercapacitors recharge and discharge faster than most conventional batteries, but the tradeoff is that they lose capacity. This is due to their carbon-based materials that are already difficult to produce.

Using metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, a team of MIT researchers led by Mircea Dincă has developed a new supercapacitor that outperformed conventional SPs and batteries in both recharge/discharge speed and capacity over time.

Modern electric car batteries use densely packed Li-ion batteries to create bigger and more powerful battery packs capable of powering a car. While such batteries work well, charging them still takes valuable time.

Imagine if an electric car could be recharged in minutes by supercapacitors instead of hours as current Li-ion technology stands. Or, if a cell phone charged in seconds!

Faster, more efficient charging cycles for our most-used electronics would certainly change how we plan (and make excuses for missing calls), but might they also be enough to encourage a mass transition to using electric and hybrid vehicles?

What’s Wrong With Current Supercapacitors?

Supercapacitors charge and recharge at a much faster rate than conventional Li-ion batteries because they use porous carbon as an active electrode (such as activated carbon, nanotubes, or holey graphenes).

The problem, however, is that these carbon-based materials wear out quickly. As a result, energy capacity greatly diminishes after each charge cycle.

In addition, creating the carbon-based electrodes requires expensive chemical solutions and harsh temperatures.

Therefore, although conventional batteries have a slower recharging time, the fact that they maintain their charging capacity over a longer period because makes Li-ion the more efficient choice over carbon-based supercapacitors.

“Results from the team’s research showed that the material lost only 10% charge after 10,000 cycles.”

Moving Away From Carbon-Based Electrodes

MIT Associate professor of Chemistry and lead researcher Mircea Dincă and his team used metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, to create a supercapacitor with a large surface area.

The new materials are extremely porous and sponge-like. In fact, one gram of the MOF has a surface area equivalent to a football field.

Thus, a supercapacitor made from these ultra-porous materials not only has the potential to store more power, but also recharge and discharge faster without sacrificing capacity.

Results from the team’s research showed that the material lost only 10% charge after 10,000 cycles – an impressive figure competitive with current Li-ion batteries and supercapacitors.

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Comments (7)
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  1. Luncasu Victor November 07 at 10:12 am GMT

    “Mircea Dincă and HER team”. Really?

  2. mtelesha November 07 at 1:17 pm GMT

    If we could only get one of these new battery ideas to actually work in the real world! I always get excited about new battery tech and never see an actual product.

    • Alexander De Ridder November 07 at 1:34 pm GMT

      The head of IP licensing for the University of Houston told me last month that there’s a typical time-span of 21 years between research and market.

      Assuming the iPhone is about 9 years old and first underscored the need for better portable battery technology, it would have kick-started a significant increase in R&D. So we have about 12 years left before we’ll see theoretical improvements turn into products for consumers.

      That curve may be accelerated a bit because of the incredible economic incentives. Our future batteries would be able to power an iPhone 7 for weeks at a time, but more likely they will still need to be recharged daily and we’ll just suck more power out of them for more powerful applications like mixed reality and AI.

      Safe wireless charging over a distance is the solution I look forward to.

  3. Bill Jackson November 07 at 1:41 pm GMT

    A capacitor is the analog to a spring, you compress a spring fast and get the energy fast. A capacitor’s voltage declines as you draw charge as per 1/2 C*V*V (C= Farads, V = volts), thus continuous down regulation needed and near the end boost regulation.
    A bettery changes the chemical state of an element = intrinsically 20-20 times as must stored energy as a capacitor, with Lithium you have almost the best combination. Thus all this smoke and mirrors stuff from capacitor makers tries to cover up these fact. They will always be a niche players where their speed of cycle and number of cycles are important. In those areas they can not be beaten. So why all this BS? PR hacks at large?.

    • Alexander De Ridder November 07 at 1:46 pm GMT

      Hi Bill,

      you have a very interesting Disqus history, very active in discussions regarding battery technology. Is there any upcoming battery technology which makes you genuinely excited?

      • Bill Jackson March 03 at 11:55 pm GMT

        Yes, the various flow batteries have potential. The big problem is the density of the active ionic species in solution that charges charge state is too low = too big a volume of fluid to carry and remove from the car and replace with new charged fluid. If they can increase the energy density of the fluid, there is potential. Research is active on this. Now they are good for stationary installations.

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