Rolls-Royce and Superdielectrics Explore Supercapacitor Technology

New hydrophilic materials may provide the dielectric potential for standalone supercapacitor applications

Announced in 2017, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and Siemens teamed up to begin development of the E-Fan X hybrid-electric aircraft. With a focus on an electric future, supercapacitors could play a large roll in more-electric and electric aircraft design in the years to come (Image source: Airbus).

Last month, Rolls-Royce signed a collaboration agreement with UK-based technology start-up Superdielectrics Ltd to create next-generation, high-energy storage technology. To develop the new energy technology, the two companies plan to explore the potential of supercapacitors using polymers with recently discovered remarkable properties.

Working with researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Surrey, Superdielectrics Ltd has been developing hydrophilic materials, like those originally designed for soft contact lenses, to increase the electricity storage capabilities of capacitors, which store electricity by creating electrostatic fields. (Sponge-link hydrophilic materials are those that are more thermodynamically favorable to interactions with water.)

Supercapacitors, or electrochemical capacitors (ECs), store electrical charge in the close double layer of a carbon surface-electrolyte interface. This interface is primarily a high surface-area carbon. This arrangement provides the highest capacitance outputs of any capacitor.

The concept of supercapacitors has existed since the 19th century; however, The University of Bristol estimates that these newly discovered materials have dielectric property values which are 1,000-10,000 times greater than conventional electrolyte solutions – which could allow for real-world supercapacitor battery applications.

The agreement will see Rolls-Royce combine its world-class material science and technical expertise with Superdielectrics’ novel hydrophilic polymers that have been shown by Superdielectrics, in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Surrey, to have potentially outstanding energy storage properties.

By incorporating these potentially exciting dielectric polymers, researchers may be able to create capacitors that are able to rival – and possibly even exceed – the storage capacity of traditional rechargeable batteries. The resulting supercapacitors, which offer very rapid charge and discharge capabilities, may also be able to charge much faster than existing lithium-ion batteries.

Furthermore, Superdielectrics’s technology is not limited by rare or expensive elements and potentially has a higher energy density than both lead acid and lithium-ion batteries.

“We are very pleased to be working with Superdielectrics at a time of rapidly-evolving developments in the energy storage industry. We bring deep experience of materials technology and advanced applications that require high energy storage capabilities with controllable rates of recovery,” said Dr. Dave Smith, Director of Central Technology, Rolls-Royce.

We believe that electrification will play an increasingly important role in many of our markets over the coming years and by working with partners on potential new technologies for energy storage we can ensure that Rolls-Royce is well positioned to take advantage of new developments.”

At the same time as Rolls-Royce turns to hydrophilic polymers for developing supercapacitors, many other companies have turned their attention to graphene – atomically thin layers of carbon – to provide additional surface are to existing supercapacitor designs, leading to the question of when these technologies may intersect.