The Super Supercapacitor

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What if you could charge your phone, tablet, or laptop in 30 seconds and have it work all day long? That's the promise presented in a short film titled The Super Supercapacitor that profiles the work of UCLA inorganic chemistry professor Ric Kaner, whose research focused on conductive polymers and next generation materials.

The story goes that while developing a new way to generate graphene -- the same material used in carbon nanotubes -- Kaner's team made a serendipitous discovery: the new carbon-based material acted as a supercapacitor.

As explained in the short, batteries have high energy storage but slow charging/discharging whereas a capacitor has low energy storage but fast charging/discharging. But what we ideally want for our rechargeable electronic devices is high energy storage and fast charging/discharging, or in other words, the best of both worlds. That is what a supercapacitor delivers, and a carbon-based supercapacitor could replace batteries that contain toxic materials that must be properly disposed of.

You can watch the film to hear Kaner explain how a supercapacitor could change the world:

The film is part of GE's Focus Forward Films, a project to profile 30 innovative ideas and the people behind them in three-minute films. The Super Supercapacitor was one of 20 finalists in the $200k Filmmaker Competition (we recently covered the SlingShot Purifier, which was also part of GE's competition here).

For the last few years, research on carbon nanotubes and related materials have been focused on as the future of batteries. Bringing the excitement of this research and the potential impact the innovation could have on the world to audiences at film festivals can only help bring awareness about technology and help educate people about science. Furthermore, it helps to humanize scientists and bring accountability to them, as many are at public universities and/or receive grants from public funds.

Still, this work is very much in the research phase and many groups are chasing after the near-unlimited power that supercapacitors may provide. Whether a material acting as a supercapacitor can be created that has a long shelf life and can be scaled up to production levels remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the demand for easy and effective means of charging devices is only going to increase.

The group that solves this problem will have the entire world as its customers.

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 7 Responses

  • fishead62 January 29, 2013 on 7:07 pm

    Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. He called it a “batacitor”, for “bat”tery cap”acitor”. It could take a huge charge instantly and release it at whatever rate you wanted. Slow like a battery or all at once like a capacitor.

    I love checking off items on my list of all the cool stuff I read about in sci-fi books when I was a kid.

  • Roaidz January 30, 2013 on 5:28 am

    To speed up the process of Re-Charging, and to prolong the life of batteries,
    wow this is something. I salute you guys.

  • Improbus Liber January 30, 2013 on 10:38 am

    I have heard about this technology before. How long until we get an actual product that ships?

  • Herbys February 1, 2013 on 11:16 pm

    Interesting, but what we want is REALLY long battery duration, then we don’t care about charge times. For 99% of the applications, not having to charge the device during regular use (generally that is during the users waking hours) is enough, and then we don’t care about charge time for as long as it is less than a few hours.
    For the majority of today’s applications LiIon has close to the capacity that’s needed, though doubling or even quadrupling the capacity would have very positive effects. Once you have a battery with four times the capacity of LiIOn, being able to charge it in fifteen minutes offers almost no practical advantage over being able to do it in one hour. What I want in my car is not to have to charge it during a trip, not having to charge on the road but being able to do it in five minutes.

  • George Koutsolelos February 10, 2013 on 7:44 am

    love electronics!

  • George Bruno Suárez March 12, 2013 on 1:26 am

    Tesla Motors anyone?

    • Karl Mersh George Bruno Suárez March 15, 2013 on 9:13 pm

      Lets hope the oil companies do not get hold of this!