Commercial production of supercapacitors based on nanocarbon crystals (whiskers) has begun in Russia. The designers claim that with these capacitors an engine can be started ten times in a row at temperatures as low as -76°F (-60°С).

Anyone who has tried to start a heavy-duty vehicle at extremely low temperatures knows that high cranking amps greatly reduce the service life of operational batteries. In fact, failure to start an engine can kill the battery, which can cost you much more than a new battery, because a dead battery can seriously damage the vehicle, not to mention cutting into profits.

Starting heavy-duty wheeled and tracked vehicles and light aircraft in the kinds of extremely low temperatures that occur in the United States, Russia and Canada is a challenging technical and engineering goal. Russia has large polar regions and temperatures in Siberia sometimes reach -96.2°F (-71.2°C). Alaska’s official low temperature record is -79.96°F (-62.2°C). Winter temperatures reach -50 to -70°F in Canada and -87°F (-66.1°C) in Greenland.

One way to ensure engines start easily in cold weather is to install additional supercapacitors to complement the operational battery. This will not just help start a vehicle but will also increase the battery’s service life.

The temperature at which a supercapacitor can start an engine is a vital parameter. Russian researchers have created and tested supercapacitors that have been used to start internal combustion engines up to 10 times in a row at -76°F (-60°С).

The project was implemented by a group of researchers at the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (NUST MISIS) led by Professor Mikhail Astakhov, head of the NUST MISIS Department of Physical Chemistry, in cooperation with TEEMP, a company within RENOVA’s ROTEC Holding.

The innovative cold start system comprises a hybrid power storage based on a mobile device with an SSP-SK-D-1 generator. The generator is used to charge the supercapacitor, which produces a powerful start impulse. The two parts of the system are combined in a unit placed in a shared coffer.

Vladimir Tumanov, project director at TEEMP, said: “Our team has proposed a fundamentally new design ideology and technology used for the assembly of supercapacitor modules, and because of this innovation the complexity of manufacturing storages has been considerably reduced. At the same time, equally original technology for manufacturing electrode materials from organic fibers was proposed by the NUST MISIS Department of Physical Chemistry. Together, these two ideas will allow us to reduce the production cost of the energy storage unit by almost three times.”

The main element of the supercapacitor is a nanocarbon material in the form of nanocrystal whiskers. This material has a unique combination of properties: high conductivity, high storage density (up to 20 farads of active mass), and low production cost. In terms of its combined properties, the new material holds its own against graphene and nanotubes but is much cheaper: one gram of graphene costs about $1,000, whereas one kilogram of carbon whiskers cost only about $20.

Moreover, unlike two-dimensional graphene, whiskers are 3D nanostructures with specified pore size distribution, which ensures unique energy capacity and the required electrical conductivity, and hence unmatched efficiency. The high efficiency and unique design help reduce the weight of this cold start system by about 30 percent compared to its analogues.

NUST MISIS researchers hope that the new supercapacitors based on whiskers will enjoy high demand.

“NUST MISIS, which is developing under the University 4.0 model, is not just one of Russia’s best scientific and educational centers, but also a dynamically developing platform for the innovative activity conducted by our scientists jointly with the business community. The new technology has wide application opportunities, for example in low-impact vehicles, load-lifting construction machines, for uninterrupted power supply and energy quality adjustment, and even in pulse and medical technologies, including cardiac pacemakers, CT scanners and X-ray machines,” said NUST MISIS Rector Alevtina Chernikova.