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More powerful electric cars: Mechanism behind capacitor's high-speed energy storage discovered

Date:
February 23, 2012
Source:
North Carolina State University
Summary:
Researchers have discovered the means by which a polymer known as PVDF enables capacitors to store and release large amounts of energy quickly. Their findings could lead to much more powerful and efficient electric cars.

Researchers have discovered the means by which a polymer known as PVDF enables capacitors to store and release large amounts of energy quickly. Their findings could lead to much more powerful and efficient electric cars.
Credit: iStockphoto

Researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered the means by which a polymer known as PVDF enables capacitors to store and release large amounts of energy quickly. Their findings could lead to much more powerful and efficient electric cars.

Capacitors are like batteries in that they store and release energy. However, capacitors use separated electrical charges, rather than chemical reactions, to store energy. The charged particles enable energy to be stored and released very quickly. Imagine an electric vehicle that can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour at the same rate as a gasoline-powered sports car. There are no batteries that can power that type of acceleration because they release their energy too slowly. Capacitors, however, could be up to the job -- if they contained the right materials.

NC State physicist Dr. Vivek Ranjan had previously found that capacitors which contained the polymer polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF, in combination with another polymer called CTFE, were able to store up to seven times more energy than those currently in use.

"We knew that this material makes an efficient capacitor, but wanted to understand the mechanism behind its storage capabilities," Ranjan says.

In research published in Physical Review Letters, Ranjan, fellow NC State physicist Dr. Jerzy Bernholc and Dr. Marco Buongiorno-Nardelli from the University of North Texas, did computer simulations to see how the atomic structure within the polymer changed when an electric field was applied. Applying an electric field to the polymer causes atoms within it to polarize, which enables the capacitor to store and release energy quickly. They found that when an electrical field was applied to the PVDF mixture, the atoms performed a synchronized dance, flipping from a non-polar to a polar state simultaneously, and requiring a very small electrical charge to do so.

"Usually when materials change from a polar to non-polar state it's a chain reaction -- starting in one place and then moving outward," Ranjan explains. "In terms of creating an efficient capacitor, this type of movement doesn't work well -- it requires a large amount of energy to get the atoms to switch phases, and you don't get out much more energy than you put into the system.

"In the case of the PVDF mixture, the atoms change their state all at once, which means that you get a large amount of energy out of the system at very little cost in terms of what you need to put into it. Hopefully these findings will bring us even closer to developing capacitors that will give electric vehicles the same acceleration capabilities as gasoline engines."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. V. Ranjan, Marco Buongiorno Nardelli, and J. Bernholc. Electric Field Induced Phase Transitions in Polymers: A Novel Mechanism for High Speed Energy Storage. Physical Review Letters, 23 February 2012 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.108.087802

Cite This Page:

North Carolina State University. "More powerful electric cars: Mechanism behind capacitor's high-speed energy storage discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120223182646.htm>.
North Carolina State University. (2012, February 23). More powerful electric cars: Mechanism behind capacitor's high-speed energy storage discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120223182646.htm
North Carolina State University. "More powerful electric cars: Mechanism behind capacitor's high-speed energy storage discovered." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120223182646.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

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