I recently read an article (http://www.eejournal.com/archives/articles/20130506-batteries/) that seemed to indicate that "supercapacitors" are starting to approach the energy densities of batteries for some applications. That was in 2013 so I imagine things may have moved along a bit more since then.

I am now curious as to the relative weight and energy density of the two, and specifically I am thinking of how these might be used in drones where weight is an issue.

Does anyone have any information on this or maybe links to any articles comparing the two please?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ So get some datasheets and do the math. Why are you asking us? \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Apr 15 '15 at 16:27

I recently read an article ... that seemed to indicate that "supercapacitors" are starting to approach the energy densities of batteries for some applications.

It's possible that there may be niche applications where that is true (although none come to mind with a quick musing) but for even 'ordinary everyday' batteries they have a way to go yet as regards either mass or energy densities.

BUT, as can be seen below, they have some utterly fantabulous specs that batteries cannot hope to match. eg 1,000,000 cycle life, 1000A+ max discharge current, 100A test current, ... !

Modern high end NimH batteries have energy densities about the same as typical LiIon cells. I'll use a typical NimH AA cell for comparison, but results would be similar for Lion or LiPo. LiFePO4 has perhaps half the energy density of LiIon but even LiFePO4 is far more energy dense that good supercaps.

An eg AA (14500) NimH cell weighs about 33g and provides about say 2500 mAh at 1.1V mean. That's conservative. Energy = 2.5 Ah x 3600 s/hr x 1.1V = 9900 Joule.
Say 10,000 Joule.

A capacitor discharged from Vmax to Vmax/4 delivers 15/16 of it's energy (as E= 0.5 x C x V^2).
So discharging a say 2.7V capacitor to about 0.675V uses most of the stored energy and is still a high enough voltage for operating a boost converter. A boost converter at around 0.6V has lower efficiency than at say >= 1 V but efficiency is liable to be acceptable if accessing stored Joules is more important than maximising efficiency.

E = 0.5 x C x V^2 x 15/16 = 9900 so
C = E x 2 x 16/15 /V^2 = 2897 F
Say ~= 2500 to 3000 F at 2.7V.

Digikey cheapest in that range are Maxell K2 series

enter image description here

2000 uF = 61mm dia x 102 mm long 360 g $55/1, $44/250
3000 uiF = 61mm dia x 138 mm long 510 g $60/1
AA Nimh = 14mm dia x 50mm long 33 g $3/1 ?

Cycle life

Cap - 1,000,000
NimH - 500

Short circuit current - Amp (also abs max for caps)

2000 F 1500 A
3000 F 1900 A
Nimh ... 10 A

Toperate C max/min

Cap +65 / -40
NimH -45 / 0


A 1,000,000 cycle life is quoted but temperature modified calendar life is liable top be the limiting factor. Data sheets for several brands claim 10 year lifetimes at 25 C with the usual Arrhenius equation effect of halving lifetime for each 10 degree C rise in operating temperature. If due care was not taken there are many locations where a 35c operating temperature could occur very easily, with a consequent 5 year typical lifetime. There will be applications where forced air cooling and even heatsinking may be useful.

Here's a teardown of a satellite interfaced fishing buoy - Mikes electric stuff August 2014.

At this point: https://youtu.be/mY2X-ZQpnvY?t=475
You see this. Obviously the cost is irrelevant in the circumstances and the advantages outweigh the fact that this has about the same storage capacity as a good AA Nimh cell. There is space for a second one, but only one is fitted.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ You have to mean Dave Jones from eevblog.com with your latest paragraph, but I don't remember anything about that fish tracking buoy in teardown tuesday or a 2-minute-teardown inside mailbag monday. Do you happen to have a reference? \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Karcher Apr 15 '15 at 23:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelKarcher - Dave was who I meant BUT it was "Mike's electric stuff. See addition at the bottom of my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Apr 16 '15 at 3:19

As you can see in the following link Li-Ion VS supercapacitor, the supercapacitors compared to Li-ion battery have low energy and low cell voltage, high self discharge which could be dangerous. But i think they can be used for application that require low energy like batteries for small memories NVRAM.


Ioxus (www.ioxus.xom) has relatively new devices out.

C = 1250F V = 2.7V ESR < 0.4mOhm Size about 6" x 4" cylindrical.

Still not the energy density of a Li+ or LiPoly, but getting closer.

These are the first super or ultracapacitors I have seen that are rated to 85C - previous iterations were only good to about 65C.

I am getting some of these to evaluate.


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