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Drive A Car 500 Miles on 5 Minutes of Electricity?

The greatest challenge facing the electric car industry is battery storage. But a small, reclusive start-up company in Austin, Texas shows signs to be designing a car that can plug in for 5 minutes and drive 500 miles.

Zenn Electric CarZenn Electric CarIn a recent patent, EEStor claims to be making "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries." The details of the patent far exceed the abilities of current research in batteries for electric cars, which usually require overnight charging and provide about 50 miles of driving. In fact, it's widely thought that most electric cars will be hybrids with combustion engines for extra power, even in the future.

Compared with the current state of things, EEStor's technology seems too good to be true--and many skeptics fear it is. As Robert Hebner, director of the University of Texas Center for Electromechanics, told the AP, "Depending on who you believe, they're at or beyond the limit of what is possible."

The uncertainty didn't stop Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co. from buying the rights to EEStor's technology in 2005. ZENN has invested $3.8 million in the company and has plans to integrate the technology into ZENN's low-speed, short-range electric cars. Venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which invested early in companies such as Google and Amazon, has also invested $3 million in EEStor's future.

The key to EEStor's technology is an ultracapacitor, a battery-like device that can store and quickly release energy, enabling the acceleration required by cars. The ultracapacitor consists of a nonconductive material sandwiched between thousands of thin metal sheets. Charged particles stick to the metal sheets and can move quickly across the sandwiched material.

Usually, researchers try to improve ultracapacitors by increasing the surface area of the metal sheets, allowing more space where charges can attach. However, EEStor is focusing on making a better nonconductive material between the metal sheets, using a chemical called barium titanate. Experts who have worked with barium titanate say that if the material can be mass-produced with sufficient strength and functionality, then it may provide a solution to energy storage in vehicles.

As an added intrigue to the story, EEStor is a very reclusive company, which does almost no promotion and recently declined an interview with the AP. However, EEStor's founders, Richard D. Weir and Carl Nelson, have done successful research on disk-storage technology at IBM in the 1990s before forming EEStor in 2001, and have dozens of patents. Logically, their experience shouldn't seem to lead them down a path that is headed nowhere.

Now, as everyone stands by to watch, the general sentiment seems to be that it sounds too good to be true, but hopefully it's not.

Lisa Zyga
Science Blogger
Inventor Spot

Comments
Sep 4, 2007
by Peter Martin (not verified)

Well, the Jetson's will buy one!

As you say, one's hope is matched by a certain pragmatism.
So meanwhile, for any investors I have some swampland in Florida that could be an excellent source of methane which I'm told, if gathered properly, can turn from a potent greenhouse gas to a pretty nifty fuel.
But it's still a fuel that releases emissions.
And while electric has great potential (not least if generated without using fossil fuels), especially in localised air quality terms, please let's not forget that the energy has to come from somewhere and there is often still an exhaust pipe involved. It just may not be in the back of the vehicle.
So with any 'greening' initiatives, beyond the incredible inventiveness on show, to assess the environmental value I am always also keen on getting a sense of the actual enviROI.

Sep 5, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Althought it didn't say in

Althought it didn't say in this article. 52Kwatt-hr for 300miles (not 500miles)

We probably is looking at vehicle with 7-8 Kwatt motor which is around 12hp. Once you understand this, you won't feel too surprised.

Yes, recharge in 5 minute is still something, but that's not magic either once you put super/ultra capacitors in picture. Anyway I still don't think the market is right for this project, maybe still 10-20 years too early.

Sep 7, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture

Hope springs electrical...

Practical or not, this vehicle further paves the way for a cleaner, greener future. We laugh at those wacky flying machines of the early 1900s today, but competition and demand will bring us a similar evolution to that of the airplane.

Sep 8, 2007
by atul (not verified)

tell you what that would be

tell you what that would be one breakaway technology , just cant imagine a car which needs 5 mins of charging and can take you 500 miles.. Hope the claim is true !!

Sep 9, 2007
by Edward (not verified)

energy

It's true that the power still needs to come from somewhere but when you localize it like that you have hundreds of plant pipes you can filter rather then millions of exhaust pipes.

Apr 11, 2008
by Anonymous

Ultracapacitors

I have seen the website www.ultracapacitors.org that talks about EEStor and their technology.

I am so happy this technology is coming to the market more and more.

JJ