This could be a game-changer for the EV auto industry.
The auto industry is going through a major transition. Aggressive emissions regulations are forcing consumers to switch to electric cars sooner than expected. Battery technology is continually improving, resulting in longer ranges and greater efficiency. As the technology develops, solid-state batteries could potentially double the ranges of electric cars. Some automakers are also experimenting with supercapacitors instead of traditional battery packs to store energy: the hybrid Lamborghini Sian pairs a V12 engine with a 48-volt hybrid system based around a lithium-ion supercapacitor.
Supercapacitors offer faster charging times than lithium-ion batteries but are expensive to produce, preventing the technology from powering mass-market EVs.
According to Autocar, however, scientists have discovered a breakthrough that could significantly reduce development costs of supercapacitors. The discovery comes from an unusual source: paper waste. Stick with us, because this could be a game-changer for the EV industry.
Scientists from Imperial College London and University College London have discovered that lignin can be used to replace the graphene-based carbon used in current supercapacitors. Lignin is a by-product of paper production. Tens of millions of tonnes of lignin are produced every year and most of it is burned to produce energy. Since it's one of the most abundant naturally occurring polymers in the world, lignin is renewable and could benefit the electric car industry.
The lignin-based material can store more energy than the carbon-based components used in current supercapacitors and is cheaper to produce. Finnish company Stora Enso is already producing lithium-ion battery anodes that use lignin instead of graphite to improve the range and performance of EVs.
Stora Enso, a manufacturer of pulp, paper, and other forest products, is also collaborating with fiber manufacturer Cordenka to develop carbon fiber from renewable lignin rather than the oil-based raw material polyacrylonitrile. As part of a four-year project, scientists at the German Institute of Textile and Fiber Research also used lignin as a sustainable raw material to reduce the cost of carbon fiber.
If the cost can be lowered by using lignin, high-energy supercapacitors could power electric cars sooner rather than later, resulting in lighter, cheaper, and longer-range EVs. "Supercapacitors are an ideal candidate for electric transportation within urban centers, where pollution is an increasingly pressing concern. However, they are often overlooked because of the high cost of production," said Dr Maria Crespo Ribadeneyra from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial.
"Our research is based on a low-cost and sustainable bio-based material that can store more energy per unit volume than many other expensive alternatives. This is particularly important in the automotive sector, where optimization of the space and the costs of the components is crucial."