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The Top 5 Markets for Ultracapacitor Technology

The Top 5 Markets for Ultracapacitor Technology

| Mike Everett, CTO and Vice President, Research

Ultracapacitors are used in a variety of applications and markets around the globe. These are the top five markets for ultracapacitor technology.

1. Hybrid buses

The current largest market in the world for ultracapacitors is in the transportation sector, and the largest application in that market is the hybridization of passenger buses with energy storage.

China is leading the world in the build out of this perfect application for high power energy storage, and is the largest consumer of ultracapacitors in terms of watts. Used for propulsion and regenerative braking energy recapture, the ultracapacitors are providing superior benefits to the application. The primary benefits include reduction in greenhouse gases, reduction in fuel consumption and improved acceleration performance. Bus makers in China are demonstrating to the world that this technology can be deployed with great effectiveness on an industrial scale.

2. Renewable energy

Renewable energy is another market segment that has adopted and made significant use of ultracapacitors. Ultracapacitors have been installed in wind turbines to provide the power for blade pitch control. The devices have been in the field in this application for a long time with close to zero failure rates in service and, in some circumstances, lifetimes that are now exceeding 10 years. In this application, the devices are replacing battery and hydraulically actuated pitch control systems which are expensive, have reliability and service considerations and show some performance concerns. Ultracapacitors have eliminated those concerns for the pitch system makers that are leading the industry with progressive technology like the ultracapacitor.

3. The grid

Another area of emerging applicability for ultracapacitors is in the grid space. The dynamic rate of change of demand and the highly variable nature of the requirement makes frequency regulation a perfect candidate for ultracapacitors.

"Thinking” energy and "acting” power is what the grid is all about. One might be tempted to think that the biggest challenge to a healthy power grid is stable energy supply. In reality, the biggest challenge is dealing with the transient nature of the requirements of the grid. Short-term high power requirements are a greater concern than the supply of steady energy. And as renewable energy sources increasingly penetrate the grid, the instability that the grid is exposed to will likely increase. And to mitigate the negative impacts of those instabilities, the system designers will find the value in the ultracapacitors.

4. Automotive

Any discussion of applications for ultracapacitors would not be complete if the automotive applications were left unmentioned. The automotive market represents perhaps the most diverse ecosystem for the deployment of ultracapacitors. In the dynamic use model of the automobile and the drive toward electrification of the system, the need for ultracapacitors becomes increasingly obvious. From engine starting to propulsion to active suspension, e-turbocharging and board net stabilization, all the applications of electrical energy in the automobile requires short-term dynamic power with highest reliability and lifetime.

There are a few commercial deployments of ultracapacitors in the automobile, the first one reaching industrial scale being the VSS system commercialized by the tier one automotive supplier, Continental, located in Germany.

5. Railway

The railway market is the last market I will touch on as being perfectly suited for ultracapacitors. The high power available upon a train braking while entering a station and the benefits of providing propulsion assist from that captured energy has undeniable socio-economic benefits. Indirectly reducing the impacts of energy generation by making best use of kinetic energy (as in the bus application) and avoiding the requirements for more electrical energy generation, transmission and distribution has obvious benefits.

The ultracapacitors have the ability to efficiently capture that braking energy and then to deploy it with the same efficiency to either propel the rail cars from the station or otherwise be diverted to the energy grid to provide frequency regulation functions. The ultracapacitors can be located either onboard or wayside (at the station) depending on the use model and desired application.

The rail market is destined to be the next big worldwide market for the deployment of ultracapacitors. The benefits are known, the application is worldwide and prevalent, and the capability of the technology is presently available. As the market recognizes the benefits and the manufacturers of the technology hold up their end by reducing costs and improving the implementation logistics, the application will continue to flourish.

As a final word on applications for ultracapacitors, it should be recognized that applications are generally split between power demand (dynamic changes) and steady state conditions (either just changed or preparing to change again). The ultracapacitor has the ability to change the way energy is managed in any system.

Mike EverettMike Everett
CTO and Vice President, Research
About this author

Mike Everett joined Maxwell in August 2002, assuming responsibility for technology systems, including product assurance and multiple systems engineering groups. In December 2005, he was appointed chief technical officer. Before joining Maxwell, he spent seven years overseeing product development for 3D Systems Inc., a California-based technology company that designs and manufactures three-dimensional imaging systems. Over a 16-year engineering career, Mike has been responsible for all levels of new product development, primarily focused on systems engineering.

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