24 May 2011

Dr. Mario Conte: “Ionic liquids make new and better-performing supercapacitators greener”

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The supercapacitators that Dr Mario Conte develops with his European partners in the ILHYPOS project will be used to enhance the batteries in electric vehicles as well as hybrids or those using combustible batteries; besides that, they will be more environmentally-friendly thanks to the use of ionic liquids

Dr. Mario Conte from the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, is Coordinator of the EU research project ILHYPOS.

How are the supercapacitators you are developing within the ILHYPOS project composed?
They are made of two carbon electrodes saturated with an electricity-conducting liquid, which are then sealed into soft pouches. These new storage devices for electricity are rechargeable systems. They will be used to retrieve and store the energy generated by the vehicle during braking. This energy will then be reused to improve the overall power of the car during acceleration.

 Which is the difference between the newly developed supercapacitator and a conventional battery?
The main goal of the ILHYPOS project is to develop a new type of supercapacitator with better performance than other products on the market, and more environmentally acceptable. This is why we have decided to change two major components, an electrode based on a polymeric component and the electrolyte which is based on a new material called ionic liquid. Compared with a conventional battery, the supercapacitator has very low internal resistance, it accumulates the energy released during braking and makes it more quickly available. In this way, it greatly increases efficiency of electric vehicles. It simultaneously reduces pressure on the battery and increases its life span. The battery is not overtaxed by intense cycles and so it lasts much longer.

Can supercapacitators be used in all vehicles?
Supercapacitators are potentially interesting for various vehicle uses. Essentially battery-run electric vehicles or those combined with batteries, as well as hybrids with conventional generators like thermal engines, and also fuel cells. It is a very flexible component, able to provide high performance and improve the vehicle's efficiency and the life span of the batteries and associated components.

Years of study were needed for the ILHYPOS project teams to reach the current stage especially for the development of the materials and cells needed for the production of supercapacitators. Which was the most interesting innovation coming out from this activity?
It was in the lab of Prof. Marina Mastragostino, University of Bologna, that the choice of carbon material was optimized in order to offer the best performance, as well as provide a more environmentally friendly product thanks to the ionic liquid, a saline liquid at room-temperature, used as the electrical conductor, which presents an elevated ionic conductivity, allowing ions to pass in various electro-chemical systems like, in fact, the supercapacitator, but also lithium batteries and fuel cells. This lab had an important role first in selecting the materials, which were then prepared or modified in order to adapt them to ionic liquid.

In which way can this supercapacitator be considered as environmentally friendly?
Ionic liquids are maintained in a dry environment, as they are sensitive to humidity. But this green solvant is a non-toxic substance giving ILHYPOS project a real advantage over other supercapacitators. The ionic liquids we use are stable in all conditions and they are inert; in other words, they don't affect the environment. They are completely green. And they're compatible with the environment at every stage of their use, from the moment they are put in the supercapacitator to the moment the supercapacitator is destroyed and recycled.


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