DARPA awards $1.7M for ultracap energy storage

Maxwell Technologies will use the money to develop a long-lasting portable energy-storage device for soldiers to charge and manage electronics in the field.

Maxwell Technologies already makes an array of ultracapacitors used to aid in powering everything from cars to camera flashes. Maxwell Technologies

Maxwell Technologies has won a $1.7 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop an ultracapacity energy-storage device for powering portable electronics for the military, the company announced today.

Under the DARPA contract, Maxwell will work with researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the U.S. Navy to create a hybrid ultracap, a device that can act as a "capacity module, advanced battery pack and power management electronics" tool yet be light and small enough to be easily transported by soldiers in the field.

The device also must be extremely long-lasting, enabling military personnel to run all of their electronics equipment off one energy source during an extended mission.

"To ensure that field military personnel are energy self-sufficient during extended missions, they typically carry primary and spare batteries weighing more than 60 pounds to power a growing assortment of portable electronic equipment," Maxwell said in a statement.

Maxwell Technologies' PC10 series of ultracapacitors are used in portable electronics for small power boosts. Maxwell Technologies

Maxwell already makes large-scale ultracapaciters used in vehicles with stop-start technology. Carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, for example, has begun using them as a way to offer "fail-safe" restarting in its stop-start vehicles. The ultracapacitors have greater lifecycles than batteries and can be completely recharged in minutes. Maxwell's Boostcap ultracapaciter is used in buses and trams, for example, to capture power during regenerative breaking and then act as a power booster during acceleration. Maxwell also makes the PC10, a small capacitor used with batteries for devices like digital cameras and tabletop credit-card readers.

Hybrid ultracap is a term coined by researchers and companies in recent years that refers to a single energy-storage device that uses both an ultracapaciter and batteries to store and quickly distribute energy to electronic devices. Hybrid ultracaps could be considered the Toughbook-equivalent of battery packs as they can be made smaller than typical battery packs and operate under more extreme temperatures, while still offering the quick recharge and discharge capability of ultracapacitors.

One of Maxwell's rivals, Ioxus, has announced it is developing a hybrid ultracap that combines ultracapacity with a lithium-ion battery that's roughly the size of a C cell battery. EnerG2 is also employing ultracapacitor technology to develop grid-storage devices.

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