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Beyond The Capacitor There Is The Ultracapacitor

And you always thought that the Farad was a ridiculously large unit... Start thinking in KILOFarads!

By Ross Tester

Some time in the not-very-distant future you will pick up your cordless drill and start drilling away – with more power than you ever thought possible. And it will keep on drilling for much longer than you thought possible.

Click for larger image
A hybrid test car on a test track in England, powered by the CSIRO-developed UltraBattery - a combination of an ultracapacitor and lead-acid battery. Photo courtesy Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium.

The drill will look and feel the same as current cordless drills but it will have one major difference: it won’t contain a battery. Instead, it will get its power from a capacitor.

Needless to say, it won’t be a "normal" capacitor. In fact, it’s so abnormal it has a new name: an ultracapacitor (or sometimes a supercapacitor). While the terms have been somewhat interchangeable, they’re starting to be used more selectively, with ultracapacitors denoting the larger values.

Already (at least in the US) there are rechargeable tools on the market which use ultracapacitors instead of batteries, such as the Coleman Flash Cell Screwdriver and the Superior Tool Co Ultracut Cordless Tube Cutter.

And without realising it, you may well be using one already: many computers these days use an ultracapacitor, or at least a supercapacitor, in place of the batteries once used for CMOS backup. They’re also found in many other devices doing the same task – video recorders and even digital alarm clocks, for example.

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