What It Will Take To Get Electric Vehicles To The Masses

The electric vehicle (EV) industry has had its early-adopter moment and is cruising toward the mass market. For the average consumer to choose an EV over a traditional car, however, manufacturers will have to dismantle some perceived speed bumps. Ultracapacitors are at the heart of their efforts, and the payoffs are imminent.

At the Accelerating Sustainable Performance conference at the Infineon Raceway in August, the key players in the EV industry gathered to discuss, in part, what it will take to get EVs to the masses. Speakers discussed the need for EV design that mimics “regular” car models, as well as the need for additional investment in innovation and sustainability. But much of the conversation focused on the public’s anxiety about EV range and challenges related to charging. Consumers need to know that they will be able to find places to charge their cars while they’re on the road. They need to know they’ll be able to power up relatively quickly. And they need to know those charges will hold for convenient lengths of time.

Ultracapacitors will help to answer those concerns. Ultracapacitor manufacturers are actively engaged in research to increase the energy density of their products, with a goal of reaching the energy density of lead acid storage batteries, which would allow for the wholesale replacement of such components. Such a change would be extremely beneficial, as ultracapacitors do not suffer from the shortcomings of lead acid storage batteries, but rather are characterized by very rapid re-charge rates, re-charging in minutes, as opposed to hours.

The high recharge rate gives ultracapacitors the ability to tolerate hundreds of thousands of charge/discharge cycles without failing and with virtually no maintenance. While the goal of increasing the energy density of its capacitors to compete with lead acid storage batteries has not yet been achieved, it is one that appears to be well within the capabilities of ultracapacitor technology, and when achieved, will be revolutionary in the EV market.

Ultracapacitors are already supporting the mass-market viability of hybrid cars and EVs by harvesting energy that would otherwise be lost. This technology can be illustrated by a regenerative braking system, which employs a motor-generator, set with a capacitor bank. As braking is required, the generator is driven, charging the capacitors and upon acceleration, the motor delivers assistance to the vehicle during acceleration.

EVs haven’t hit the mainstream yet, but they will, and sooner than many consumers might expect. As power infrastructure and energy storage technologies – namely, ultracapacitors – address the charging concerns of the average driver, we will begin to see far more plug-in vehicles on the road.

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