Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nanotube capacitors starting to enter the market

In 2006, MIT wrote up the invention of carbon nanotube improved capacitors, saying that if all goes well, the technology should enter the market within five to ten years time. I love reading about potentially disruptive technologies in materials and low level, common components. They really are the hope for us to get enough breathing room to fix the massive financial mess we're all busy digging ourselves into across the first world. But there's a long distance between technology in the lab and technology for sale in real products that make a difference so I filed it in my "check every couple of years" mental category and moved on. I should have checked more often.

The technology is starting to enter the market now, shipping first products in spring of 2013 and it's a major game changer for the economy, one that most people haven't mapped out the implications of yet. The technology was spun out of MIT into FastCAP Systems and they are now offering product to, of all things, the oil and gas drilling field, allowing for the elimination of batteries entirely in the advanced technology of measuring while drilling (MWD) and logging while drilling (LWD) or a doubling of system lifetime when used in conjunction with batteries. These "extreme environment ultracapacitors" are safer than their competition, lithium batteries, as they simply don't explode. Their shipping technology operating temperatures are rated to 150C, which is quite impressive.

But conventional oil and gas drilling is a means to an end for FastCAP as their aim is to reduce drilling expenses and increase drill capacity to viably tap geothermal energy as their technology has been recently validated at Sandia National Labs in use at 200C and the company seems to be going for 250C as a next step. This translates out to MWD/LWD operations out to 8km depths and the ability to extend modern techniques of horizontal drilling to greater depths than before.

All of a sudden, widespread geothermal energy doesn't look as impractical as it did yesterday.