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Ultracapacitors: the future of electric cars or the 'cold fusion' of autovation?

ZENN Motors says its electric car will cruise for 250 miles on a single five-minute charge. Skeptics cry shenanigans.

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"We see our Electrical Energy Storage Unit, 'EESU,' enabling the next generation of electric vehicles. The main feature of the EESU is [its ability to] charge and dis-charge at electric speed. This is a key enabling factor for the advancement of the next generation of vehicles. Another feature is the amount of power the EESU can store. Lastly, the EESU is expected to be considered fully 'green.' "

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Some have suggested that ultracapacitors will play more of a supporting role – others that it's a "game changer," or even world changing. How would you describe the potential?

"EEStor's technology has the opportunity to touch every aspect of daily life from very big to very small devices. We also see a whole new generation of products and services that [are] based around our technology."

How would you characterize EEStor's contribution to developing new systems to transmit the energy for automotive propulsion?

"No comment."

EEStor has announced passing an evaluation on purity of its production process. Explain why this is important.

"To be discussed in the near future."

Why has EEStor been so quiet, some say secretive, about what it is doing?

"We talk about our achievements through press releases. We talk with our current customers almost daily. We will also talk about more things when the time is right."

Do you see any show stoppers, or is it just a matter of ramping up?

"With any start-up you have some speed bumps that come up from time to time. We have no show stoppers."

Competitors rev their engines

At the North American International Auto Show in January, AFS Trinity created a stir by strutting its "extreme hybrid" plug-in concept vehicle that uses ultracapacitors to boost battery life and get 150 miles per gallon. The Bellevue, Wash.-based company sees ultracapacitors as a natural fit with new generation lithium-ion batteries that are vital to plug-in hybrids. Company chairman Edward Furia compares batteries to a long-distance runner (providing the stamina a car needs over the long haul) while ultracapacitors are akin to a weight lifter – giving cars that 0-to-60 oomph while minimizing impact on the delicate battery.

As oil prices rise, new ultracapacitor research has emerged. Companies like Maxwell Technologies, Panasonic, Nippon Chemi-Con, and others are working on advanced devices with attributes of both an ultracapacitor and a battery, according to a November report from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). But the recent focus is only a continuation of a long-term fascination with ultracapacitors in automobiles.

A small fleet of ultracapacitor-powered buses began running in Moscow in 1995, and some garbage trucks in the US now use ultracapacitors to efficiently absorb energy from braking – and discharge it for acceleration, the IEEE article notes. Honda's Dualnote concept car in 2002 also showed off ultracapacitors' ability to instantly absorb braking energy and then return it in acceleration. German automaker BMW is also said to be evaluating ultracapacitors in their hybrid vehicles.