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Supercapacitors can take market share from lithium batteries

This article shares some of the research carried out for the new IDTechEx report, “Batteries and Supercapacitors for Smart Portable Devices 2013-2023: Markets, Technologies, Companies” ( ).
Multifunctionality is driving the change in energy storage landscape
The consumer electronics industry has changed drastically in the past few years. Portable devices are increasingly becoming multifunctional, and not only phones which currently work for many purposes (e.g. making calls, sending SMS, internet navigation, email, video playing) but cameras and other devices as well.

For example, we can now see smart watches that play music and can help you manage your smartphone, or android powered cameras with applications and Wi-Fi internet connectivity. At the same time, smartphones are taking over more functions; such as the one that becomes a semi-professional camera when adding interchangeable lenses.

This trend in power demand terms is translated into frequent peak power demands from lithium and other types of batteries. The same applies for wireless sensors, which require power pulses for performing their functions. In Figure 1 below we show the power demand profile for different operation modes of three different smartphones.

Figure 1. Different power profiles for different smartphone uses
Supercapacitors can take market share from lithium batteries

The energy storage space for smart and portable electronic devices
The energy storage space (Figure 2) is composed of primary (non-rechargeable) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries. Here, we define “smart and portable” as those devices that will take a key role in the future of data and communications, and are small enough to be carried by one person or installed in a small device. The energy storage solutions that power these devices are the subject of our report and they are in both the consumer and industrial segments.

Figure 2. Energy Storage Space – including supercapacitors
Supercapacitors can take market share from lithium batteries

Lithium batteries have become the dominant technology in the secondary battery space for small devices such as laptops, mobile phones, tablet PCs and cameras. This is because of their superior energy density characteristics. The consumer electronics industry has pushed their production to billions and consequently, through economies of scale, has optimized its supply chain and reduced their price. At the same time, as shown in Figure 2, secondary batteries are increasingly substituting primary batteries in many applications.
Supercapacitors fit well into the emerging energy storage landscape
As in any other battery, energy and power will play against each other; increasing one will lead to the loss of the other. Accordingly, the capacity of lithium batteries (energy content) is reduced if we extract the energy quickly. This means that if we require high power from the battery we will extract less total energy than if we would require low power (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Ragone Plots for an array of energy storage and energy conversion devices
Supercapacitors can take market share from lithium batteries

As seen in Figure 1, the multifunctionality trend in smart portable devices requires different power profiles depending on the function and some of these high power demands are required more often. These variable power demands mean less available total energy extracted from the battery (and accordingly your battery running out quicker). In the consumer electronic industry this was not a problem in the past, since the mobile phone power demand profile was more or less constant and low. This was the case because originally mobile phones were only used to perform just one function (i.e. make calls).

Consequently, lithium battery technology capabilities are being challenged by the modern multifunctional portable devices, which are increasingly requiring higher performance in terms of power density. Whilst current research and development pathways aim for the emergence of a new generation of high energy density technologies, alternative energy storage technologies are challenging the dominance of lithium batteries.

This is the case with supercapacitors, which are an emerging energy storage technology, whose characteristics make them strong candidates for satisfying those specific functions where lithium batteries underperform.

Interestingly, supercapacitors can deliver a considerable amount of energy at high power (see Figure 3). This makes them suitable for supplying high power in multifunctional devices where current batteries can’t provide it without reducing their total energy capacity (see Table 1 below).


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