It can be charged in just 15 seconds, and can go through hundreds of thousands of charge-recharge cycles without degrading. Meet the “SuperBattery” developed by Estonian startup Skeleton Technologies, which could solve some of the biggest problems still holding back the transition away from fossil fuels.

“This will be a key enabler of the energy transition,” says Taavi Madiberk, founder and chief executive of Skeleton. “In most cases we see that batteries are not able to fully replace the older technologies — we still have hybrid vehicles or the need for backup generators.”

Skeleton signed a €1bn letter of intent with a leading automotive manufacturer to bring the technology to market.

Skeleton’s graphene-based battery is hoping to help bridge the gap where lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells are still not quite meeting energy requirements. The company is today announcing a partnership with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to complete the development. Skeleton recently signed a €1bn letter of intent with a leading automotive manufacturer to bring the technology to market, most likely in 2023 says Madiberk.

Electric cars will be a key use case. Painfully slow recharge times are still one of the major headaches for electric vehicle owners. Even at Tesla’s super-fast recharge stations, it will take at least half an hour to get the battery re-powered, making it hard for electric vehicles to compete with the fast filling times at petrol stations.

Plus lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, limiting their lifespans. The warranties offered on electric cars are telling: Nissan covers the Leaf for five years, Renault offers an eight-year warranty for the Zoe as does Tesla on the Model S.

Developing batteries that can overcome some of these issues is a Holy Grail for the auto industry.

Ultracapacitors — which store charge in an electrical field, without the need for a chemical reaction to release it — have been considered as one potential answer. Ultracapacitors charge up fast and can deliver a powerful energy kick to a vehicle, but they have one big drawback: they are not good at storing energy in the long term, so they are of little use for long car journeys. An ultracapacitor is a bit like a leaky cup that tends to lose its contents over time.

But what if you could combine some elements of ultracapacitors with lithium-ion batteries to get the best of both?

Elon Musk has been trying to do this. Tesla bought ultracapacitor company Maxwell Technologies for $218m in 2019, with the idea of borrowing from the technology to improve the batteries used in its cars.

“We looked at the dry electrode route that Tesla is exploring, but decided to go a different way,” says Madiberk. “Tesla is trying to go for maximum energy, but we are looking at the most efficient way of getting power.”

The SuperBattery combines the way ultracapacitors store charge in electrical fields with a small amount of “wet” chemical reaction to allow the batteries to store energy for longer.

Madiberk says the battery is designed to be used in combination with lithium-ion batteries or even hydrogen fuel cells.

“We are not a silver bullet or a complete solution on our own. You won’t have long-range electric vehicles running purely on our technology. But combining a lithium-ion battery with a SuperBattery can reduce charging time, as well as the overall cost and weight of the battery system in the car. We are a building block in developing a much more efficient system.”

“When I tell people that our ultracapacitors have four times the power density of Tesla, people just assume it is marketing hype.”

Going up against Tesla — with its name recognition and marketing power — is not easy, Madiberk admits.

“When I tell people that our ultracapacitors have four times the power density of Tesla, people just assume it is marketing hype,” he says.

But independent studies have backed up the fact that Skeleton is already beating US rivals in ultracapacitors. Last year a study backed by the US Office of Naval Research found that Skeleton’s SkelCap ultracapacitors outperformed those from Maxwell and Ioxus by a large margin.

“For them to find that a European technology was the leader was, I am sure, not what they were expecting,” says Madiberk. “It was a great validation for us.”

“European research in energy storage — especially in Germany — is clearly some of the best in the world,” he adds. “It is just that our ability to commercialise it is not as good. That’s where we come in. Maybe we can change that.”

17
Join the conversation

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Sasquatch
Sasquatch

Painfully slow recharging at home is electric installation problem, not battery.

15 seconds recharge of 60kWh battery pack would require 3000kW charger…
That’s a big offshore wind turbine output…
7500A at 400v you would need a crane to lift the cable…

Silviu Gordes
Silviu Gordes

Many people don’t do math. I have a 400 KVA transformer and 150 Kwh cable, but only 80 Amp circuit breakers. So i cant/t pass that one unless i invest more money. For a regular household, you cannot charge more than 3 – 7 kwh so doen’s matter how fast they recharge, unles you have a infrastrucutre ready for that. Then, the batteries like to be charged at 0,2 – 0,5C. So that is even more problematic. I am transforming a diesel into a hybrid then i can lower most of the city emisions and drive longer distances with very… Read more »

Ross Plecash
Ross Plecash

One way to manage this issue it to have the recharge station utilize larger versions of these cells. The charger’s cells would be recharged continuously from a more reasonably-sized feeder, and would discharge to the vehicle’s battery as fast as the battery could take it. The cable size issue is certainly one to consider, but graphene is both highly conductive and highly flexible, while being lightweight. If cables could be made from this material, then fantastic. Alternatively, movable graphene bus bars could be employed to carry the charge. 15 seconds is an unreasonable target for a full charge, anyway. 5… Read more »

Peter
Peter

What do ultracapacitors have to with Tesla? They bought Maxwell for the DBE process, not their capacitors.
And power density is pointless when the ENERGY density is not up to par. All ultracapacitors are very power dense, but you would need literally metric tons of them to get decent range in a car.

walkeer
walkeer

ok, so this is not a battery, but a supercapacitor with energy density of 20 Wh/kg. Tesla batteries have 250Wh/kg, that is 12x more 😉

walkeer
walkeer

love how the article somehow forgot to mention the most important parameter of any battery: energy density. Why do I know this will be very bad in this case?

MR P R HURST
MR P R HURST

Renault offer 8yr Zoe battery warranty btw ;]

It's me
It's me

Beating Tesla in competition they are not interested in is really great.

RCL
RCL

This sounds very much like the Hyperion Super Hydrogen Fuel Cell car that mates Hydrogen tech with a supercapacitor for short burts. It was heavily reported in the press last month (August). Reportedly top speed of 212+mph and 0-60 in 2.2 secs and 1000 mile range

Nik
Nik

Good lord🙄 was this article written in 2017?

Jurgen Foogel
Jurgen Foogel

There sure are uses for ultracaps, but in a car? How does that compute? Saying that it has better energy density than Tesla but is not usable standalone means its too expensive and/or leaky. But then the capasitor needs to be order of magnitude smaller than the battery say 6 kWh, but what is the use of charging 10% of range supper fast, you still have to wait the same time for the cap to offload the energy to battery to charge the rest of the battery. The only thing it gives is brake recoup will always work well, but… Read more »

jean szrogh
jean szrogh

Sure man, sure. And GM, Ford, Toyota etc… are just planning to use the estonian miracle battery in their cars, dont they ?

Richard Percival
Richard Percival

If price and delivery match the technical specification why not?

Aleks Tammeorg
Aleks Tammeorg

If they have no alternative or alternatives are far less effective, hell yes they will.

Martin Ham
Martin Ham

What a sad and naive thing to say. Research Skeleton a little bit and you’ll see that what they’re doing is actually amazing.