Grounded in Reality, Maxwell Technology’s CEO Dispels Static Around Ultracapacitors
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already has batteries. Electronics manufacturers understand how to design battery-powered products and automobile manufacturers understand how to design vehicles equipped with lead-acid batteries.
“If you bring a whole new energy device to market, engineers need to understand what it will do and how, and why it should be included in their products,” explained Michael Sund, a Maxwell spokesman.
Manufacturing costs, and the difficulties in increasing production volume, have probably been the biggest barrier to adoption that Maxwell has faced. In recent years, the company has moved its manufacturing operations to low-cost contractors in China. That has helped the company boost production. Maxwell’s ultracapacitor sales have jumped from $5 million in 2004 to a current production rate estimated at $30 million a year, although overall profitability for the company is still a problem.
After years of trying to gain acceptance among customers, Schramm says Maxwell is now selling its ultracapacitors for use in hybrid-electric buses made in the United States and in China, for windmill power-generators in Europe, cordless power tools, consumer electronics and as part of backup power supply systems that must provide uninterruptible power for computer chip makers and other key industries.
While the innovative materials under development at EnerG2 are promising, Schramm says the Seattle startup faces two critical challenges: How do you get the technology out of the laboratory, and how do you make it cost-effective? “Carbon nanomaterials are orders of magnitude more expensive than the carbon powders we work with,” Schramm says. “It’s hard for me to imagine them having manufacturing capacity with the capital they have raised.”
As for a proposed X Prize to create an ultra-capacitor, Schramm says it would be a breakthrough if someone developed a single energy storage device that combines the capability of a battery to generate sustained electrical energy with an ultracapacitor’s ability to rapidly charge and discharge electrical power.
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