Tesla CEO: I’d Bet On Capacitors Over Batteries

Wed Mar 16, 2011 5:27pm EDT

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk says he bets that it could be capacitors — rather than batteries — that deliver an important breakthrough for electric transportation. “If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries. But capacitors,” said Musk at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Capacitors, or ultracapacitors, are energy storage devices that can deliver quick bursts of intense power and can withstand more charge and discharge cycles than batteries. They’re like batteries, and can be used in complement with batteries.

But it’s interesting that the CEO of a company that bases its technology around standardized, small format, lithium-ion batteries would make such a comment. Perhaps Tesla is doing some R&D on capacitor storage deep in its Palo Alto, Calif. labs?

The original reason Musk came out to California years ago was to do research on advanced, high energy density capacitors at Stanford, and to try to leverage what Musk said was tens of billions of dollars of R&D that’s been applied to capacitors for advanced ship making. But then, that whole Internet thing and PayPal happened. And then Tesla (and SolarCity and SpaceX).

Musk says he’s optimistic there will be a solution found by one or another companies in the capacitor space that “will supercede,” batteries. The capacitor companies I’ve written about include Ioxus, which makes ultracapacitors for transportation in complement with batteries; EEstor, which seems like it’s not ever going to deliver anything; Recapping, which is backed by Khosla Ventures and won an ARPA-E grant; and EnerG2, which makes materials for ultracapacitor makers.

Image courtesy of Tesla.

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