The devices are poised to transform energy storage by taking over high-power functions from batteries in three key areas:

  • Tying wind and solar farms to the power grid
  • Stabilizing the grid
  • Powering hybrid and electric vehicles

The ERN Research report, Ultracapacitors: Emerging Technologies for High-Power Energy Storage, analyzes ultracapacitor technologies for these large-scale applications.

The report details ultracapacitor types, emerging ultracapacitor applications, the components that make up ultracapacitors, the factors that contribute to ultracapacitor cost, performance variables, and future directions.

The report includes detailed profiles of

  • 15 startups that are readying potential ultracapacitor breakthroughs
  • 27 manufacturers and 29 other companies that have recently developed ultracapacitor technologies
  • 52 researchers around the world who are pushing the boundaries of ultracapacitor science and engineering

Some highlights:

One of the hottest ultracapacitor technologies is electrodes made from closely-packed, vertical carbon nanotubes. These prototype electrodes store an order of magnitude more energy than today's best commercial devices. Players to watch include MIT spinoff FastCAP Systems, research firm ADA Technologies and major ultracapacitor manufacturer Nippon Chemi-con.

Much ultracapacitor development is aimed at driving down costs. This usually means making cheaper carbon electrodes. Players to watch include startup SolRayo, activated carbon maker Reticle, research company TDA Research and University of Kentucky researcher Stephen Lipka.

Electrolytes are another key area, and ionic liquids and lithium are the hot topics. Players to watch include ADA Technologies, Kansai University's Masashi Ishikawa, Bologna University's Marina Mastragostino and research company LithChem.

Meanwhile, cutting-edge materials and nanotechnology research promise to push the boundaries of ultracapacitor technology. Researchers to watch include Yonsei University's Kwang-Bum Kim, University of Texas' (and Graphene, Inc.'s) Rod Ruoff, MIT's Yang Shao-Horn and Florida State University's Jim Zheng.

Given the expected boom in ultracapacitors over the next five years and the differences among application requirements, it's likely that there will be room for several emerging technologies to reach the market.

Ultracapacitor energy storage capacities are likely to increase by five to 10 times in the next five years, but ultracapacitors aren't likely to make batteries obsolete. They will, however, replace batteries for many power-intensive applications, including hybrid vehicle acceleration and regenerative braking.

Several laboratory ultracapacitor prototypes are already providing 10 times the power and capacity of today's commercial ultracapacitors. The key question is how readily these materials can be mass-produced and whether they can be made cheaply enough.