Ultracapacitors See Falling Prices, Rising Interest

As an engineer, how many projects have you worked on where money was no object? How many courses did you take in school on finding the least costly solution? If the least engineered and manufactured cost solution isn’t at the top of your current corporate list of projects, I’m sure it’s close to it.

Ultracapacitors probably aren’t on the top of your list to achieve this key cost objective, but they should be. The historically based perception is that ultracapacitors are too expensive. This used to be true, but it isn’t anymore.

First, over the past decade, ultracapacitor pricing has declined much faster than battery pricing, and more importantly, will likely continue to decline at a faster rate than battery prices. The reason is obvious: whereas ultracapacitors are a relatively new form of energy storage, batteries have been around for more than 100 years. Ultracapacitor volumes are forecasted to see more than 40 percent compounded annual growth this decade, driving material and manufacturing costs and overall pricing down significantly. Even the newer battery technologies aren’t projected to realize this kind of growth or cost reduction, and the older technologies such as lead acid batteries are tied more to the cost of raw materials, which aren’t declining significantly. So, ultracapacitor pricing has declined by well over 90 percent when battery pricing has declined by less than 40 percent.

On a related matter, more suppliers are making key raw materials used to manufacture ultracapacitors, such as activated carbon, and they are doing so more efficiently and cost effectively. Significantly increasing volumes means more competition and lower costs.

Second, since projects planned today will usually not be in production for a year or more, it makes more sense to look at probable future ultracapacitor pricing. Tomorrow’s prices will be lower than today’s, and generally significantly so.

Third, ultracapacitor solutions typically involve readily available electronics to control and manage systems for optimal operation and long life. More and more of these solutions are software based, and the cost of electronics and firmware continue to decline at a rapid pace, as well.

Fourth, more and more applications such as automotive start/stop and light rail energy storage require hundreds of thousands of cycles over the design life of the products, which only ultracapacitors can provide. So, from a cost per cycle or life cycle cost basis, ultracapacitors are often the most competitive solution, even today.

If you haven’t looked at ultracapacitors recently because you think they are too expensive, look again. It’s all about providing the most economical solution, and ultracapacitors can help. Try them. You’ll like them.

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