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When it comes to energy storage, don't overlook ultracapacitors

Those of you pondering the various energy storage options emerging to support the development of alternative energy technologies must not forget to overlook the role of ultracapacitors in the mix.Being that my physics background is limited to a high-school honors class and to a "Physics for Arts Students" I took during my undergraduate days at McGill University, I agreed to an education briefing by Maxwell Technologies CEO David Schramm.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Those of you pondering the various energy storage options emerging to support the development of alternative energy technologies must not forget to overlook the role of ultracapacitors in the mix.

Being that my physics background is limited to a high-school honors class and to a "Physics for Arts Students" I took during my undergraduate days at McGill University, I agreed to an education briefing by Maxwell Technologies CEO David Schramm.

Here are some of the things that I learned during our conversation:

  • Ultracapacitors are light and rather small-ish and can accept a charge quickly, and release it quickly, too. "It's like storing lightning in a bottle," Schramm says.One of the biggest applications for ultracapacitors (at least those from Maxwell) is in wind turbines, where they are used to help keep the pitch of the blades optimized for the wind currents and direction. Too fast, and the blades could wear out more quickly. Not fast enough and energy isn't generated as quickly.
  • While lithium-ion technologies are know to be temperature-sensitive, which can compromise performance, ultracapacitors don't have the same drawback.
  • When used with solar systems, ultracapacitors could be programmed to keep panels at the best angle or vantage for sun exposure.
  • Ultracapacitors are already used in regenerative braking applications on transit busses, where they store and release energy rather quickly. They could play a major role in extending the fuel economy of all vehicles. Don't believe me, consider the following video from U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu

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