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The next breakthrough in grid capacity may combine the best features of ultracapacitors - greater speed and power - with the capacity of battery storage.


The Next Breakthrough in Grid Capacity

The next breakthrough in grid capacity may combine the best features of ultracapacitors – greater speed and power – with the capacity of battery storage.

The next breakthrough in grid capacity may not be battery storage. Ultracapacitors are faster, discharging in fractions of a second rather than seconds, perform over broader temperature ranges (-40°C to +65°C) and provide more power. As batteries produce and store energy through a chemical reaction, rather than storing it in an electric field, they have more capacity.


According to Dr. Kimberly McGrath, Director of Business Development at San Diego-based Maxwell Technologies, combining these technologies prolongs battery life by not exposing it to the high power conditions. Based on some studies, Maxwell knows ultracapacitors prolong the life of batteries from 10% to +30%.

“The key part of the ultracapacitor technology is that when we talk about cycling, we talk about hundreds of thousands of cycles versus thousands like batteries do. We don’t have the same type of degradation mechanisms. So we have a very long lifespan and that is very important when you talk about grid applications because the energy storage systems on the grid have to last 15 to 20 years,” she said.

An increased usage of ultracapacitors would pave the way for significantly higher  adoption of renewable energies into the grid.

storage ESS

“If you have fast responding resources like ultracapacitors tied to solar and wind, the power output becomes so much more reliable.” said McGrath. “There is going to be a good mix of generation and storage technologies on the grid. Gas power plants, renewables, batteries and ultracapacitors all have a role.”

However Maxwell’s new partner does not work on the grid yet. Corning has experience with automotive innovations, such as emissions control products for the automotive and heavy-duty truck markets. They have long been interested in the versatility of ultracapacitors.

McGrath noted their association with Corning opens new business opportunities.

On the technological side, the partnership will be addressing problems like including energy density, lifetime, operating environment, form factor and cost.

“The cost of energy storage is always a factor that comes up as something that limits adoption of the technology, so by developing technologies that can lower the cost we can expand market opportunities,” said McGrath.

“We see great potential in capacitive energy storage,” said Doug Harshbarger, business director of emerging automotive innovations at Corning. “We are excited to work with a company like Maxwell who has such a long history of innovation in the field and strong market presence. Our agreement brings us together to accelerate the pace of innovation.”

“The transportation segment as well as our grid segment will all benefit from this collaboration,” she added.

Notes on images, in descending order

  • Dr. Kimberly McGrath, Director of Business Development at Maxwell Technologies
  • The ENVILINE energy storage system from ABB, which features Maxwell’s ultracapacitor technology. This rail regenerative braking and grid frequency regulation technology is being used by the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s (SEPTA) light rail system in the greater Philadelphia area- Courtesy Maxwell Technologies
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Written By

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.


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