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New material claimed to store more energy and cost less money than batteries


September 29, 2011

The low-cost, high-density energy-storage membrane, created at the National University of Singapore

The low-cost, high-density energy-storage membrane, created at the National University of Singapore

Researchers from the National University of Singapore's Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Initiative (NUSNNI) have created what they claim is the world's first energy-storage membrane. Not only is the material soft and foldable, but it doesn't incorporate liquid electrolytes that can spill out if it's damaged, it's more cost-effective than capacitors or traditional batteries, and it's reportedly capable of storing more energy.

The membrane is made from a polystyrene-based polymer, which is sandwiched between two metal plates. When charged by those plates, it can store the energy at a rate of 0.2 farads per square centimeter - standard capacitors, by contrast, can typically only manage an upper limit of 1 microfarad per square centimeter.

Due in part to the membrane's low fabrication costs, the cost of storing energy in it reportedly works out to 72 cents US per farad. According to the researchers, the cost for standard liquid electrolyte-based batteries is more like US$7 per farad. This in turn translates to an energy cost of 2.5 watt-hours per US dollar for lithium-ion batteries, whereas the membrane comes in at 10-20 watt-hours per dollar.

Details on how the material works, along with data on factors such as charging/discharging times and longevity have not yet been released. Principle investigator Dr. Xie Xian Ning, however, has stated "The performance of the membrane surpasses those of rechargeable batteries, such as lithium ion and lead-acid batteries, and supercapacitors."

The NUSNNI team is now looking into opportunities for commercializing the technology.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I think that I hear about 10 new designs of batteries every month that at least double the capacity, 10 times cheaper to build than Li-Ion batteries. After three years of this. I just simply don´t believe in them.

Eduardo RG

Please God let this be real... the planet needs it.

Nacho Lotitto

Why post claims like that without releasing some more data, its meaningless! Still, I hope its true, lithium ion sucks.


Interesting... if the story were out of China, Korea even Japan I might doubt it... but the Government of Singapore does not look kindly on companies that might sully Singapore\'s reputation. That said... I\'ve seen about 20 new promising battery technologies in the last couple of years and so far... nothing. Come on... we need a much better battery now.

Dana Lawton

Cautiously excited. If its viable, its still 10 years away.

John Hogan

Why do we always read great stories about new battery tech but the researchers seem to fail to license the technology out?

Todd Dunning

Until there is a prototype that has been verified by a respected third-party lab like NREL take all claims with a grain of salt.

Most of the wild claims and inventions you read about are a call for research dollars. The devil is in the details and most technologies fail well before the scale-up to mass production (which also weeds out a massive percentage of candidates). Many start-ups are simply scams with no intention of bringing anything to market.

For battery lovers, remember EEstor - the super capacitor that never even delivered a prototype yet managed to keep the industry and investors interested for almost a decade.


Have to agree with the skeptics on this one. How many whizzbang new battery technologies have we heard about over the past couple years, ten? Twenty?

Last I looked, not a single new battery tech has hit the shelves since NiMH. The new ferrous Lion batteries are just a slight mod of the existing stuff. Mountains of used throwaway batteries are littering landfills (or getting burned into the atmosphere), and rechargables still have pathetically small capacity, even the expensive lithiums.

Singapore, if you\'ve got something good, bring it. World needs saving, homes.


The problem with these sorts of things is the technology is usually just a series of mathematical equations that result in the given numbers. If there is an actual working prototype it usually only works under very particular lab conditions like temperature and humidity etc... Then when someone tries to commercialise it they find the battery won\'t work in normal temperature ranges eg: -10 - 50 centigrade or won\'t scale up beyond something the size of your fingernail. I\'m constantly reading about some new energy tech that will mean solar power will cost half coal power and be so easy to make you can do it at home etc... never happens. Call me jaded but theoretical energy storage isn\'t much good.


If these folks are talking commercialization already, then the damn thing must work and not require any further development. I bet on nano science a while back as the most likely venue for a breakthru.

Kent Beuchert

Remember \"Anderson\'s Law of Technology Advancement\" :

\"100 announcements of potentially game-changing technology discoveries for every 1 that comes to market\"

I think we\'re up to about #75 in the field of batteries ..

ho ... hummmmm.... zzz.....zzzz..........zzzz.......

j. anderson, m.e. , m.d.


Its a capacitor- it will keeps its energy for a millisecond or some other very short time. If its a battery/capacitor, why don\'t they how long it keeps its energy for approximately.

Mark Smith

Looks like a prototype in that gloved hand. The stats may yet turn out to be wrong and the rate of power leakage may be too fast, but it looks like they actually have something physical there. If it is just a matter of vastly increasing the surface are involved in otherwise normal capacitor technology, then the power leakage will likely be a problem.

Ullrich Fischer

I\'m afraid I\'m with the doubters. We hear a lot about new tech in the labs only to never hear of it again.

Over the last ten years I\'ve heard of enough improvements in solar cells that if combined, a one square centimetre cell would power your whole house in the dark, just using star light or sky glow for light. However the same solar cells they were making ten years ago are still being made and sold.


If it was real, Apple would buy the tech :-)

William Volk

What a bunch of sad pessimists. Look up \"ultra-capacitor\", and note that it\'s a real, nanomaterial based, and very much \"at market\". Also note that much of the new battery technology is making its way into personal computers and portable electronics, instead of AA\'s. Sure, most really new technology takes about 10 years to come to market, but that doesn\'t mean we should give up hope simply because we see a lull in new products as related to new ideas we hear about.

Charles Bosse

Maxwell Technologies sells a 3000 Farad electric double layer capacitor (also called ultracapacitor and supercapacitor) model BCAP3000-P270-K04 for around 100 dollars. It is roughly D-cell battery shaped but 138 mm (5.52in) long and 60mm (2.36 in) around. I do not know its surface area of the actual dielectric materials and plates.

I would like to see information on the weight and size of these devices. Further what is the time for discharge and recharge. The material shown in the picture is quite large, what is its storage capacity. The statement of per square centimeter in capacitors usually is talking of an ultra thin surface. That material is obviously thick, so what was its capacity. How big are the surface area of the plates in that swatch?

I am not going to discount the product especially allowing for the doubling of speed of technology advancement every few years but you have only provided enough information for causing speculation and conversation. No real information to provide for analysis and comments on the product and potential as either a product for development or marketing.


While this would certainly be a potential game changer, please remember that this is an energy STORAGE device as opposed to an energy GENERATING device. While a tremendous leap forward for portable energy apps, ie. EVs,et al., the full solution involves both energy generation AND distribution. Alternative Energy options continue to hinge on a vastly improved electrical grid. Traditional enrergy options will be utilized using said improved Grid or a distributed generation scheme. NMBY will continue to hobble both options until either HTSCs are made viable or small fusion generators suitable for near point of use applications are brought forth.


\"C\'mon, Moriarty, What\'s with the negative waves?\" - Donald Sutherland to Gavin Mcleod in \"Kelly\'s Heroes\", great Clint Eastwood 70\'s flick. Yeah, C\'mon . Let\'s give this a chance! I know, \"we don\'t have all the fact\'s yet Ma\'am\", but this is pretty exciting news. With a little tweaking, like get it to generate power, this has endless applications. I could make a suit out off it and I could rig it up to my skateboard, and roll indefinitely! Batteries are going to be part of our techno-culture until we figure out a way to do away with them, so be patient kiddies. It will happen at the exact second that you say \"ARE WE THERE YET?\"


Kelly\'s Heros, good flick! Alright, assume that the tech is real and easy to manufacture, and the cost prolections are as stated. Excellent. Now imagine your new electric or electric hybrids using these as quickcgarger for the existing hybrid batteries. As a capasitor it releases it energy very quickly into the batteries as they are dischatged, extending thier run time on the fly. Nowthe question is how much room would they require, and how much weight would they add to the vehicle? And, they could be exchanged with precharged quickcharge packs at in route, Perhaps solar charged. Make them with no-tool quick disconnects, and keep each quickcharger to a managable weight, and it would take about the time to exchange as a fuel-up at a gas pump. Just a thought. What is the projected lifespan of the charging capasity? How many cycles, how fast, Does it develope a memory? If it is a LOOONG time capasity, it could be built as the body of the car, or removable panels, such as the hood and trunk lid, to reduce or elimenate battery packs entirerly. We will have to wait on more data.


The negative waves come with experience and age. If they gave you all the information about this energy storage membrane you would understand why it is not so great. This might be gaze soaked in diesel, check the energy density of that. Better just to tease you with how great it might be. I am still waiting for those Lithium ion batteries with the silicon anode mentioned at the end of 2007 or earlier.


Maxwell Technologies is publicly traded and is holding it\'s own - above $10 per share - powers trucks and buses in Europe - ultra capacitors are real and efficient - saves school districts/colleges in the millions (check articles online), etc. Spike/load/demand are all lowered and controlled in significant fashion.

If this stuff is able to be integrated/folded/leak recaptured, etc. - wow.


Man has an incestuous appetite for energy which he is not willing to concede. The more he has - the more he will use. To be content with the basic needs for life must be learned first. If only greed and politics are removed just think how much energy could be saved. The answer is not in what you don\'t have but we must learn to use what we are given. Our lives cannot be fueled by anxiety.


I do hope it\'s real.. it immediately occurred to me that it\'s a godsend for the military or cold weather (Antarctic) explorers , as in a jacket liner that is also a battery, for heated wear.. The biggest problem with heated liners or jackets is the excess battery weight, and longevity.. in 60 to 70 below weather, body heat just don\'t cut it unless you\'re so bundled up that movement is difficult


Read it again peoples. It says it needs to be sandwiched between two metal plates. Sounds a whole lot like perhaps gel cell-type construct but higher capacity. I truly hope it\'s real and that they can fast track this technology to market. Like any other invention, the maker only lets out information on a need to know basis lest they give away the secrets. Well, we will just have to wait and see!

Will, the tink

The 3000F Maxwell supercapacitor is described in the following URL http://www.rell.com/Pages/Product-Details.aspx?productId=937403

It has a working voltage of 2.7. It contains 10,935 watt seconds of energy at full discharge (down to zero volts). It costs about $100. The figure of merit in the article is $0.72 per farad. The Maxwell capacitor is $0.033 per farad. However the Maxwell capacitor is only 3.0375 watt hours. (for $100). I buy Ni-Mh AA cells for $2.50 each that have a capacity of 2 ampere-hours at an average discharge voltage of 1.25 (total energy is 2.5 watt-hours, for a per watthour cost of $1). In order for a capacitor to have a comparable energy storage cost at $0.72 per Farad, it would need a working voltage of 72 volts. Does it? In addition the battery puts out current at a small voltage range (1.3-1.0 volts). The capacitor would fall from 72 down to zero volts


Tech articles written by non tech people drive me crazy. This is CAPACITOR technology, not a new kind of battery. Nothing wrong with that for energy storage. In fact I\'ve said for decades now that a cap could/would be WAY better than an electrochemical battery in many ways, most significantly non-limited cycle life and (potentially) very low impedance. That means very very very long lifetime, very rapid charge time (how much current can you pump into it?), and ability to deliver very high current. The new thing here is the DIELECTRIC material.

Article says \"When charged by those plates, it can store the energy...\" - that\'s the sort of maddeningly meaningless \"technical article\" writing that drives me crazy. It\'s the PLATES that are charged, by some outside source - electrons are piled up on one plate & depleted from the other. The magic of this material must be an extremely high dielectric constant which effectively multiplies the capacitance one can achieve in making a classic parallel plate cap with something other than air between the plates. If true this is indeed incredible since one would then have a true parallel plate capacitor, hopefully with all of its near ideal capacitor characteristics - near zero impedance, near zero leakage, near infinite charge/recharge cycle life. Down side of a cap for energy storage of course is its exponential voltage decay during discharge. Today this could be overcome if one could charge it to a relatively high voltage, then power a very wide range input switching voltage regulator for a useful, stable output voltage. Then you\'d have an excellent rechargeable battery but also yet another source of EMI/RFI from the switcher.

This is ironic since the first \"ultra capacitors\" sold back in the \'80s to provide power for CMOS (volatile) memory were actually electrochemical, that is, they were in fact batteries...

Old Coot

How much more capacity does this membrane have over a nine (9) volt battery? How much of this membrane is necessary to hold the charge of a car battery? Through the test that have been done, how reliable is the Membrane verses a battery? Just a few question I\'m interested in knowing..


I find this a great discovery (if it indeed works). Where I have a problem with this is that China hasn\'t signed the International Intellectual Property Agreement yet they want this to be commercialized. I call this \"wanting both sides of the coin\" and that\'s just not going to happen. Hopefully, there will be people who \"obtain\" this technology from the Chinese to enforce the importance of protecting Intellectual Property but also to make sure that \"World Changing Inventions\" don\'t get locked up behind Ideological Differences between East and West.

Ronald Edwards

Everyone who\'s ever dealt with polystyrene packaging knows that the stuff holds a charge. These guys have basically formed a very thin film of polystyrene and used it with two conductors to form a capacitor. It\'s not magic. What\'s patentable is the manufacturing process and form factor rather than the use of the material itself. Polystyrene has been used, industrially, for it\'s electrical properties for decades.

Kumi Alexander

kellory said, " I am still waiting for those Lithium ion batteries with the silicon anode mentioned at the end of 2007 or earlier."

They're right here: http://goo.gl/1mwQr

At least, I think that's them, wrapped up with a little control logic in a user-friendly single cell battery pack. Lesser cells typically have a working capacity of around 1 amp-hour, so not a tenfold increase in power density, but unlike some cells bought by Dell, these don't blow up on their own initiative.

Will the Tink, one thing that Maxwell ultracapacitor will do that my 1.2v Eneloop NiMH cell won't is pulsed power. By the standards of Ni-MH cells, the Eneloop is capable of putting out some thick, chewy amps - about five amps at no less than a volt is typical for cells in good condition. The big Maxwell can casually dump 2200 amps for about a second, with staggeringly good cycle life. In order to get that sort of performance (I shall convert everything to wattage to make math easier), I'd need to drop the demand to one amp and use five times more cells. At a going rate of about $2.50 a cell, that's 4400 cells - the capacitor works at about double the voltage of the rechargeable battery, so I doubled the voltage (and thus the cell count). That's $11,000 for a pulsed power supply. Now let's make the battery bank quintuple-redundant so they have time to cool and recharge in a way that doesn't cause immediate catastrophic failure. Never mind the Maxwell is rated to 500,000 cycles if run hard and the Eneloop is rated for 500.

Yes, capacitors are staggeringly awesome - but they have a very different role than batteries in modern power systems. Maybe someday their energy density will catch up to electrochemical batteries and we can just use incredibly resilient, powerful capacitors for everything but that's not what's being claimed here - caps are absolutely cheaper than batteries for a lot of things already.

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