Organic battery system holds promise for Malaysian market

A method of making electric vehicle battery components from organic material is set to provide jobs in Malaysia’s rural communities.

A new pilot plant at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus (UNMC) plans to produce supercapacitors, which extend the life of batteries in electric cars and handheld devices, from waste bamboo and fruit skins.

The engineers behind the ‘Enerstora’ supercapacitors hope they can cut material costs by around 20 to 30 per cent compared with conventional devices made with coal.

They also say the methods for producing the activated carbon that the supercapacitors are made from could easily be replicated in rural communities, creating jobs while making use of more environmentally friendly materials.

‘This is one of the few projects that leverages the biodiversity we have here,’ project leader Prof Dino Isa told The Engineer.

‘We may one day find some organic material growing in Malaysia that will give us a world-record setting capacitor. The project boils down to looking for a naturally occurring material rather than synthesising one in the lab.’

Supercapacitors are devices that store electricity as a static charge and can release energy more quickly than electrochemical batteries but have a smaller storage capacity.

Combining a supercapacitor with a rechargeable battery reduces the stress on the battery while enabling it to provide power and recharge quickly. This increases the time required between charges and the overall battery life.

The supercapacitor holds its charge using plates of porous ‘activated’ carbon made by burning a source material in the absence of oxygen. The porous structure gives the carbon a high surface area, which allows it to hold more electricity.

This production process is relatively simple and Isa argues it could easily be replicated by rural communities that can also collect or farm the organic source material.

‘Activated carbon can be made from materials available in Malaysia such as bamboo, palm oil kernels or coconut shells,’ said Isa.

‘We have found two – bamboo and durian skins – that give a very high surface area and we’ve found that their performance in supercapacitors is the same as commercially available materials.’

The plant,which has the capacity to produce 20 supercapacitors a day, opened this week with a ceremony attended by former prime minister Tun Mahathir.

It is operated in partnership with Malaysian firm Sahz Holdings, which received funding from the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Sahz has signed agreements with Dutch firm 2M Engineering and Korean firm Semyung Ever Energy Co, which will attempt to source potential customers.

The university team is also developing software to help integrate the supercapacitors with batteries and optimise the rate of discharge for different applications.

The next step will be to set up a high-volume production facility, but this is expected to take five years of research and development at a cost of 80 million ringgit (£16.7m).