Reinventing the capacitor



These days, big inventions aren’t entirely new creations, but improvements on an old idea. This latest in a string of interesting science/technology breakthrough stories is about just that. Researchers at MIT (how many sentences have I started like that this week?) have developed a new way of constructing a capacitor. One of the limiting factors with HOW much charge a capacitor stores now is the surface area of the “plates” that hold charge. The greater the surface area, the greater the charge. What they’ve done is laced the surface with nano-tubes, greatly increasing the surface area. One writer compared this to a fuzzy bathroom towel soaking up more water than a flat cloth. Probably not a bad analogy. What makes this significant….


Is that among the main limiting factors with current battery technology are…. 1) long charge times, 2) heavy – hard to pack more wattage into fewer pounds…. 3) they lose their ability to recharge and have to be disposed of. The gains in holding charge would about put these capacitors on par with current battery technology. They would probably be lighter than a traditional lead-acid battery. They would have a VERY quick charge time and the charge/discharge cycle could occur hundreds of thousands of times.

The only downside would seem to be controlling the output voltage, because if you’ve worked with capacitors before, you know they can shoot all of their energy in one quick blast (of course if you short a battery you can do some pretty impressive discharging too.) That quality could be advantagous in some circumstances with capacitors though. (Batteries can overheat and BAD things can happen with too heavy a discharge.)

Anyway, yet another neat tech story this week out of MIT.

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