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Q&A with Maxwell Technologies: Review of ultracapacitors

By Matthew Beecham | 2 July 2013

Jeremy Cowperthwaite

Jeremy Cowperthwaite

With their ability to store huge amounts of energy, ultracapacitors are creeping into stop-start technologies. Here, Matthew Beecham talked with Jeremy Cowperthwaite, VP and GM of the Engine Starting Group of Maxwell Technologies Inc about the potential for ultracapacitors in automotive applications.

Could we start by asking if you could tell us which automotive applications use your ultracaps?

There are at present two automotive applications that utilise Maxwell ultracapacitors. The first is the Voltage Stabilisation System (VSS) from Continental AG. This system provides voltage stabilisation for the vehicle's electrical system and support for the stop-start idle elimination function. The next application is a stop-start idle elimination system implemented by Lamborghini SpA.

To what extent will forthcoming automotive emission control regulations trigger opportunities for ultracaps?

As stop-start idle elimination and opportunistic regeneration systems are more widely adopted in the effort to comply with tightening automotive emission control regulations, the automotive opportunities for ultracapacitors will increase significantly. The combination of ultracapacitor sourced power with battery sourced energy is an optimal solution for these systems.

We understand that Maxwell Technologies has worked with Continental to supply a booster module to PSA Peugeot Citroën for its e-HDi start-stop systems. Could you tell us about your role? And who else are you working with?

Maxwell worked closely and collaboratively with Continental during development of their VSS. Maxwell's primary role was ensuring that the ultracapacitors utilised by the system complied with Continental's requirements. During the development period Maxwell achieved TS 16949 accreditation through audits conducted to the VDA 6.3 standard. While I cannot provide specific names, I can tell you that numerous automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are currently evaluating Maxwell ultracapacitors in a range of applications.

In terms of stop-start technology paired with an ultracap, how fast is this market growing?

There are numerous research reports available predicting the growth of the stop-start market, and conservatively speaking these reports typically indicate that the global market will be at least 30 million vehicles annually by 2017. In terms of ultracapacitor based stop-start technology, the bulk of the growth is currently represented by PSA vehicles using the Continental VSS. The Continental system works very well and is presently under evaluation by other automotive OEMs.

I guess ultracaps can be expected to play an even bigger role in all sorts of applications. The automotive market opportunity is clearly huge.  If demand takes off for greater use of ultracaps in either stop-start and/or other applications such as regenerative braking, how will you manage the process?

Maxwell continually evaluates the markets we participate in and invests appropriately to ensure capacity is in place to meet expected demand. Alternate options that would address large unplanned demand are also under consideration. I cannot comment further on these.     

Over the years, we've seen the application of certain auto technology designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle.  LEDs in front and rear car lights is one example. Presumably, your ultracap solution will last the lifetime of the vehicle, too?

The general answer is yes, with the caveat that it of course depends on how "lifetime of the vehicle" is defined and on the specific ultracapacitor application. Maxwell ultracapacitors have cycle and constant voltage life capabilities that align well with automotive requirements.

Stop-start systems have been on the road for the past six or seven years.  Why do you think the automotive industry has not already made the switch to ultracaps?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE research service