Groundbreaking supercap polymers could ‘transform battery industry’

The University of Surrey: 'a lovely place to be.'

Scientists at the UK universities of Bristol and Surrey, working with contact lens maker Augmented Optics, say they have made a breakthrough with new polymers for supercapacitors that “could transform the battery industry”.

They say the findings could have an impact on a huge range of applications, from aerospace, consumer electronics and medical equipment to electric vehicles, which could have a driving range similar to petrol-fuelled counterparts with the capability of recharging within a couple of minutes.

Ian Hamerton, reader in polymers and composite materials at the University of Bristol, said production of a prototype was under discussion with third parties and the initial focus was on car batteries.

Hamerton said the polymer material had been developed as a result of a project carried out at the University of Surrey, where he formerly worked.

“The material platform from which our work began was a number of cross-linked copolymers otherwise best known for their original use as soft contact lenses,” he said. “These systems are based upon a number of hydrophobic monomers including acrylonitrile and methyl methacrylate polymerized with hydrophilic co-monomers of which hydroxylethyl methacrylate (HEMA) is a typical representative.

“The result is a stable, well characterized material that is very resistant to chemical degradation.”

Independent testing on at least two dozen devices showed the material was described as being “exceptionally well suited” for use as an electrolyte with more than 100 times greater capacitive effects than that of normal aqueous electrolytes.

Unlike most electrically conductive polymers, which are structurally rigid, these new materials take in up to 90% of water and expand to form soft elastic solids that are stable in a range of acidic and alkaline solutions. It means they can be easily cast into films or molded to retain flexibility.

Initiated by Donald Highgate, an alumnus from the University of Surrey and a director at Augmented Optics, the research programme was co-led by Hamerton and Brendan Howlin, also at the University of Bristol.

Jim Heathcote, chief executive of Augmented Optics, said: “The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future.  We are seeking commercial partners to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra high energy density storage devices.”