Entrepreneurship

Is Tesla’s Elon Musk Making Good On Prediction That Capacitors ‘Supersede’ Batteries?

At a 2011 Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was quoted saying that the future of electric vehicles wouldn’t be powered by lithium-ion,

If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries. But capacitors.”

Today he may be making good on his prediction. The electric vehicle manufacturer confirmed that it has acquired a small San Diego lab that owns ultracapacitor patents and technology. 

Maxwell Technologies provides dry electrode manufacturing technology that can be used to make to make batteries that power electric vehicles and renewable energy systems. The company announced that in an all-stock transaction it will merge and become a wholly owned by a subsidiary of Tesla.

“We are very excited with today’s announcement that Tesla has agreed to acquire Maxwell. Tesla is a well-respected and world-class innovator that shares a common goal of building a more sustainable future,” said Dr. Franz Fink, President and Chief Executive Officer of Maxwell. “We believe this transaction is in the best interests of Maxwell stockholders and offers investors the opportunity to participate in Tesla’s mission of accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy.”

The lithium-ion batteries currently used in electric vehicles are expensive and heavy, and putting enough battery cells on a the types of large, heavy vehicles that consumers prefer to give them a driving range that rivals conventional gasoline tanks often makes them cost-prohibitive (think: $130,000 Model X). But ultracapacitors could be the key that solves this problem.

 

 

 

Capacitors store energy like a battery, but they can be near instantaneously charged, provide immediate bursts of energy, and have significantly greater longevity, which solves the battery degradation problem that many Tesla owners who frequent Supercharging stations run into.

However, Maxwell’s then-CEO Dave Schramm said in 2011 that the technology could improve but not ‘supersede’ batteries:

Ultracaps in today’s configuration can’t replace batteries. They’re very different — the battery is an energy device, and the ultracap is a power device. Batteries have 10 times the power of an ultracap, and ultracaps have 10 times the power. I wouldn’t say ultracaps can “supercede” batteries, I’d say “complement.”

Either way, the the technology could help eliminate range anxiety or provide the same range with smaller batteries. It could also be applied to its energy storage businesses.

News of this acquisition is also significant because Tesla rarely purchases companies, preferring to innovate and implement its own technology solutions.

 

 

This article originally appeared on Forbes