What is a Supercapacitor?

August 12, 2013

A few weeks ago we were in the initial stages of developing a small interactive product that housed some electronics and required internal power. Due to the location of this product and nature of use, plug-in electric was not an option, so we planned for a battery compartment. As the design progressed, the client expressed interest in adding another feature that would require an indicator light that would illuminate occasionally. Would our battery source provide sufficient power for this feature, or would a bank of solar cells do the trick?

The performance of solar technology has increased to the point where laptops can be charged with a flip-out set-up, as featured on the concept under development by WeWi Telecommunications. The SOL is an Ubuntu laptop equipped with a detachable solar panel, which the developers claim will provide 10 hours of battery life after just two hours in the sun.

SOL: The $350 Ubuntu laptop that runs on solar power (photo from

The electrical engineer we partner with liked the idea of solar cells, but suggested using them in conjunction with a supercapacitor. What exactly is a supercapacitor?

The point of a supercapacitor is to take on significant charge quickly, then hold that charge for a very long time before releasing it (also very quickly). Standard capacitors store and smooth the flow of energy. Supercapacitors, with their superior power density, have much more capacitance per volume than a standard capacitor.

Graphene (photo from

A team from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea is working on a solution to improve performance even further by turning graphene into tiny three-dimensional orbs. Graphene is seen as an ideal material for this application because in addition to high conductivity, it has huge surface area relative to its mass. Thus, it can be used to increase the power density and recharge speed while reducing the weight.

While they don’t have the energy density of a conventional battery, supercapacitors are able to charge and discharge much more rapidly. Intel awarded18-year-old runner-up Eesha Khare $50,000 in scholarship money at their annual International Science and Engineering Fair for her development work on a tiny device that fits inside your phone battery and could charge your battery in 20-30 seconds.

“What Khare has designed and created is a supercapacitor with a ‘special nanostructure’ allowing it to store significantly more energy while charging incredibly quickly. It also remains viable for 10,000 charges compared to the more typical 1,000 charges of today’s batteries.” – from

This is the property which will make them a game-changer in products of the future. Everything from mobile electronics to vehicles will potentially have much shorter re-charge times, effecting how and where they can be used. In addition, new products that haven’t previously been considered viable may be developed as a result of this new electrical technology. To learn more about supercapacitors, check out the Wikipedia site here.

Written by: Chris Kulujian, Manager of Product Development, Beyond Design, Inc.

Up Down