Sinautec Makes Ultracapacitors Work

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sinautec ultracapacitor busUltracapacitors are the Holy Grail of clean transportation: they’re powerful, they’re reliable, they’re relatively inexpensive and they charge in minutes. But they also discharge in minutes, and that’s the problem companies like EEStor and Altair Nano are working furiously to combat. Even the best ultracapacitors have about five percent of the average lithium-ion battery’s storage capacity.

But Sinautec Automobile Technologies, a capacitor company based in Arlington, Virginia, has decided to to turn the technology’s weakness into its advantage. Along with Chinese partner Shanghai Aowei Technology Development Limited Corporation, Sinautec has developed an ultracapacitor-powered bus that charges quickly every few stops. A collector on the bus roof extends to overhead power lines, and in minutes the batteries — called banks — charge fully.

“It’s a brilliant concept,” says ultracapacitor expert and MIT electrical engineering professor Joel Schindall. “It’s not well suited for electric-only cars, but it is practical to stop a bus every few city blocks.”

It’s also both cheaper and cleaner than operating diesel buses. The company claims that even when powered by electricity from the dirtiest coal-fired power plant, their buses would still produce two-thirds less CO2 than a traditional bus. What’s more, they’re 40 percent more efficient that the average electric trolley.

Ultracapacitors offer advantages over lithium-ion, as well. The battery can last longer than the vehicle it powers, charging between 50,000 and 500,000 times. If the system does outlast the vehicle, it can be removed and put to another purpose. And Sinautec Executive Director Dan Ye claims that in a comparison between his company’s buses and lithium-ion-powered buses used in the Beijing Olympics, the ultracapacitors were far more reliable.

After three years of dependable service in a Shanghai suburb, Sinautec brought its technology stateside and staged a demonstration at the American University campus in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. The model displayed could travel up to 45 miles between charges thanks to an energy capacity advancement.

“I hope that we can educate people about technology as much as we can save the environment,” said Ye. “I hope that we can replace a lot of diesel vehicles.”

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.