Tesla Motors has based their whole business model on batteries. They kind of have to since, after all, they sell electric cars. Tesla’s Roadster contains 6,831 lithium ion laptop-style batteries and the company’s up and coming 2012 Model S will have around 8,000 lithium ion laptop-style batteries. This is why it’s such a surprise to hear Tesla CEO Elon Musk say that he doesn’t think batteries will be part of the breakthrough that really pushes electric vehicle transportation into the mainstream.
While speaking at Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, Musk said, “If I were to make a prediction, I’d think there’s a good chance that it is not batteries but capacitors [that will facilitate the breakthrough].”
Musk might be onto something. One of the biggest drawbacks to electric vehicles is the “range anxiety” caused by the very batteries that electric vehicles need to store their energy. Batteries not only take a long time to charge up, but the state of their charge is largely dependent on ambient temperatures.
Capacitors are a lot like batteries. They’re commonly used now in consumer electronics to maintain power while the batteries are charging. Capacitors can also release quick bursts of electricity and since they can withstand more charging cycles than batteries, they should last longer. The only thing that batteries have on capacitors is that they can store more energy.
Now we’re not engineers, but if Tesla was somehow capable of combining large capacitors with a battery, so that the capacitors could both run the car and charge the battery when the battery is depleted, and supplement it with regenerative braking and solar panels, they might just be onto something BIG. In theory, that could be a real self-sustaining car. That could also be just the breakthrough that Tesla needs to remain viable into the 21st century auto industry.