Death of the internal combustion engine? Great scott!

Doc from Back to the FutureAustin Startup and Wired pointed me to a story about an Austin-area company, EEStor, that is promising to revolutionize batteries the way we know them.

Every battery that we use in our everyday lives is electrochemical in nature – that is, it depends on a chemical reaction to both receive and output an electric charge. The speed of these reactions is limited, and that limit is the reason why charging a battery takes as long as it does and why batteries can only provide so much output when called upon. It’s the reason why today’s electric car takes all night to charge and can only be driven 50 miles afterward. Battery technology is the main thing holding electric cars back from being a viable alternative.

But what about a battery that charges in 5 minutes, and allows you to drive 500 miles? Whoa.

That’s what EEStor purports to have. The technology is based on the other type of popular energy storage means that is used every day inside our electronics – the capacitor. It does not depend on a chemical reaction, but rather stores energy by allowing charged particles to “stick” inside it. Historically, capacitors are only fit for holding small charges for a short period of time, but EEStor says they have created an “ultracapacitor” (flux capacitor?) which has the fast charge/discharge of a capacitor and the storage capacity of a traditional battery.

Anyone who remembers the cold fusion debacle from 1989 will take this with a grain of salt, but EEStor is a venture-backed company which apparently has developed a working prototype . . . but hasn’t come out with a practically usable product and a way to manufacture on a larger scale yet. And there are plenty of skeptics who say doing something like this is on the border between chemistry and alchemy.

Despite those facts, it’s exciting to see an avenue that could knock down the single largest technological hurdle between consumers and clean energy. Even a product that has half of the capability they claim would be nothing short of revolutionary.


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