For decades, battery storage technology has been a heavy weight on the back of scientific innovation. From cell phones to electric vehicles, our technological capabilities always seem to be several steps ahead of our ability to power them. Several promising new technologies are currently under development to help power the 21st century, but one small start-up looks especially well positioned to transform the way we think about energy storage.
Texas-based EEStor, Inc. is not exactly proposing a new battery, since no chemicals are used in its design. The technology is based on the idea of a solid state ultra capacitor, but cannot be accurately described in these terms either. Ultra capacitors have an advantage over electrochemical batteries (i.e. lithium-ion technology) in that they can absorb and release a charge virtually instantaneously while undergoing virtually no deterioration. Batteries trump ultra capacitors in their ability to store much larger amounts of energy at a given time.
EEStor’s take on the ultra capacitor — called the Electrical Energy Storage Unit, or EESU — combines the best of both worlds. The advance is based on a barium-titanate insulator claimed to increase the specific energy of the unit far beyond that achievable with today’s ultra capacitor technology. It is claimed that this new advance allows for a specific energy of about 280 watts per kilogram — more than double that of the most advanced lithium-ion technology and a whopping ten times that of lead-acid batteries. This could translate into an electric vehicle capable of traveling up to 500 miles on a five minute charge, compared with current battery technology which offers an average 50-100 mile range on an overnight charge. As if that weren’t enough, the company claims they will be able to mass-produce the units at a fraction the cost of traditional batteries.
"It’s a paradigm shift," said Ian Clifford of ZENN Motor Co., an early investor and exclusive rights-holder for use of the technology in electric cars. "The Achilles’ heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary."
But this small electric car company isn’t the only organization banking on the new technology. Lockheed-Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, has also signed on with EEStor for use of the technology in military applications. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital investment firm who counts Google and Amazon among their early-stage successes, has also invested heavily in the company.