Superdielectrics storage tech hailed as precocious

Cambridge firm Superdielectrics has launched a new type of hybrid energy storage technology that combines supercapacitors with electrochemical batteries.

The Faraday 1 storage module
The Faraday 1 storage module - Superdielectrics

Hailed by the company as a significant breakthrough in storage, the aqueous polymer-based technology is claimed to already match the energy density of lead acid batteries, while charging 10 times faster. The polymer breakthrough is said to have emerged from an ongoing collaboration with researchers at Bristol University, who identified and validated the key mechanisms involved. Core materials used are said to be low-cost, recyclable and inherently safer than prevalent storage technologies such as lithium-ion.

At a press event at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in London, Professor Marcus Newborough, Superdielectrics director of R&D, demonstrated the company’s Faraday 1 storage device. Following an introductory explanation of the technology, Prof Newborough walked to an adjacent room where a prototype Faraday 1 system was powering a cluster of bright lights.

According to Superdielectrics, Faraday 1 has completed over one million hours of testing and the company believes continued development of the technology could position it to compete with lithium-ion batteries. The firm’s website states that the aqueous polymer technology is already protected globally through more than 10 patent families.

“We think the ability to charge rapidly - and discharge rapidly if needed - is a key characteristic relative to battery technologies,” Prof Newborough told the assembled guests at the IET.

“Constructionally, everything we have, our IP, is based on crosslinked hydrophilic polymer materials. Crosslinked means the polymer chains are interconnected in a sort of 3D matrix, which gives the polymer strength and self-supporting characteristics.

“The membrane is ion-selective. So we can do electrochemistry, as well as electrostatic storage. It's very, very low cost as a polymer compared with the industry…roughly 50 per cent of our materials are made of water. It's a very benign substance…there's no lithium, no cadmium, no cobalt.”

According to Jim Heathcote, Superdielectrics CEO, the technology has the potential to transform the energy storage market. The company sees stationary and home storage as a major opportunity today, alongside lighter mobility applications. As energy density improves, heavier EV applications including aerospace and automotive may be possible. Superdielectrics claims to have already increased its cell energy density by 900 per cent over the past two years.

“Our vision is to create an affordable and sustainable energy future,” Heathcote said at the launch event. “We now think, with the current energy density, that our technology is suitable for electric bikes, forklift trucks, and home energy storage.

“If every roof inside the M25 had solar panels and an affordable energy storage technology, the UK could be self-sufficient in electricity.

“Just in England and Wales, there are approximately 20 million houses. If each one had 1kWh of energy storage, that would add 20 gigawatts of energy storage capacity to the UK grid.”

Heathcote said the company’s immediate plans are to target that home storage market, leasing Superdielectrics storage systems to households across the UK. He claims consumers could benefit from the storage technology regardless of whether or not it was paired with domestic solar generation.

“I would imagine that we would be leasing these 1kW units for roughly £300 a year,” he said. “So on 20 million homes, that gives you - just in England and Wales - a £6bn potential market. And that's what we're developing towards for our first markets.

“We've got a new energy storage technology that’s compatible with fluctuations. It charges very quickly. It's safe, 50 per cent water, very unlikely to catch fire. It's low cost. And it's recyclable. And it has the potential to exceed existing battery technologies.”