Capacitor Sciences in Menlo Park, CA may provide the ultimate energy storage (ES) solution for electric vehicles, residential and commercial applications, microgrids, and even utility-scale needs. The Company is developing dielectric materials for capacitive energy storage cells. Their technology uses nano-structured crystalline thin films as the dielectric material for capacitors. Earlier this month, I met with Dr Pavel Lazarev, Capacitor Sciences’s founder and chief technology officer, and with Wolfgang Mack, vice president of business development.
Is Capacitor Sciences technology an energy storage game-changer?
Can an electric vehicle reach a 1,000 miles range, surpassing Tesla’s lithium ion batteries?
Capacitor Sciences claims their capacitor cells can provide up to 10 times the energy density and 100 times the power density of a lithium-ion battery at a significantly lower cost per kWh, making its performance superior to Tesla’s batteries. Further, per Capacitor Science, their technology offers a longer life cycle (20 years of daily cycling versus 10 years in lithium ion) with rapid and safe charge/discharge cycles. The Levelized Cost of Energy Storage (LCOES) of the capacitor is $0.03/kWh where LCOES in current solutions is higher than the cost of energy itself (over $0.30/kWh compared to the average U.S. residential electricity cost of $0.13/kWh). The superior performance over lithium-ion batteries comes at around $100 per kWh.
The company’s product is a film capacitor that consists of a polymer film coated with electrodes, wound into a cylinder, attached to terminals and inserted into a protective enclosure like a can (See image on this page).
I asked Dr. Lazarev why thin film capacitors were not used before. He explained that energy storage is dominated by batteries manufactured by companies such as Panasonic, Samsung SDI and LG Chem. Capacitors are used in transient power applications, where profitability is slim. Therefore, not much research & development (R & D) innovation happens nor mergers & acquisitions activity. In addition, he said that there have been separate sets of skills: battery companies’ expertise are in ionic electrochemistry and film capacitor companies’ expertise are in electrode design and film winding. Supercapacitor companies’ expertise are in ionic electrochemistry and separation membranes.
Capacitor Sciences took a encompassing and broader perspective by developing and crystalizing classes of materials not familiar to battery or capacitor manufacturers. While progressing through their R & D efforts, Capacitor Sciences has adopted functional properties from the disparate fields of polymer dielectrics, non-linear optics and ionic materials, bringing together diverse research in different fields.
Mr. Mack took me on a tour of their labs. He explained that capacitors are the simplest energy storage device. Capacitor cells are easy and inexpensive to manufacture: there are no electro-chemical reactions; no moving parts; and no lifetime degradation issues. In addition, capacitors have no electrolytes that may catch on fire; they are safe to operate and safely charge and discharge in rates that far exceed the lithium ion batteries cycles.
Why is their technology a game changer?
Capacitor Sciences’s management said that their cell’s capacitive energy storage is safe to operate (doesn’t pose a fire risk) and is environmentally friendly (no risk of toxic fumes). These attributes by themselves are game changing in the global energy storage markets. In addition, film capacitors have virtually unlimited lifetimes. In comparison, the lithium ion batteries are costly, have much lower energy density and a short lifecycle. Consequently, lithium ion is still too expensive for mass-market of electric vehicles (EVs), it limits drones’ applications (for example it curbs long distance deliveries), and the levelized Cost of Energy Storage (LCOES) is too expensive for residential, commercial and industrial uses, as well as at utility-scale.
The advantages are as follows:
- High energy density and power density
- Long operational lifetime without capacity degradation
- Low manufacturing cost
- Low Levelized Cost of Energy Storage
- Able to operate at low and high temperatures
- Operational safety – not flammable and no toxic fumes
- Diverse applications of same technology
What are the company’s challenges?
- Today, lithium ion batteries are positioned as the industry standard storage solution and many companies are working on enhancing their capabilities. Educating multiple ES markets of the capacitor solution as a superior alternative is a challenge and will require extensive marketing efforts, coupled with solid use cases in various segments (like EVs, residential, commercial and industrial uses), as well a successful scaling.
- The manufacturing of a new metadielectric material is a challenge and also incorporating this metadielectric into a commercial capacitor product. As an industry standard, the manufacturing processes exist today. and are standard in the industry. However, there are newfunction requirements that must be maintained for scaled-manufacturing.
- The company has already raised $4 m from angel investors and is hoping to raise up to $11 m in series A funding. In the next few months the company hopes to attract strategic investors in order to commercialize their technology. Capacitor Sciences has already taken beneficial steps and recruited to their board several ES industry leaders from STEM, Maxwell Technologies, and True Family Enterprises / True Innovations.
In conclusion, watch Capacitor Sciences in the next year and look for more information on their commercialization efforts, use cases, and funding.