Power up: ‘Super capacitor’ opens new doors for charging electronic devices

It has been a long, long time since a piece of technology has knocked my socks off. Well, my shoes are across the room, and my socks? Nowhere to be seen.

As a kid (and adult), I read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics all the time. I got hooked on my dad’s subscriptions of these magazines back in the late ’50s, I’d guess.

He never threw an issue away, and because of that, he kept himself busy building bookshelves.

These magazine storage units became my favorite library.

I’d have to say that I got just as excited when a new Popular magazine came in the mail as I did when the local sundries store got in the latest issue of “Superman.”

I feel like I’ve stayed up on a great deal of the inventions and gadgets from the past 50 years or so.

I’ve seen some flops (automotive 45 RPM record player), and I’ve seen some biggies (cellphones and personal computers, just to name a couple).

This new innovation is a “super capacitor.”

Long story short, a capacitor is an electronic component that holds a temporary electrical charge.

This super capacitor, invented by researchers at UCLA, is made of graphene, a very simple carbon polymer.

They did it by painting their liquid carbon formula onto the surface of a DVD, and then they cooked it with a laser until it formed a film just one atom thick (that’s thin!).

The laser, by the way, was the one inside a common off-the-shelf DVD burner like is found in just about everyone’s home and work computer.

In other words, the basic materials to make these super capacitors are super cheap.

Now here is where the fun comes in.

They have discovered that this super capacitor can hold a charge for a long time, much longer than traditional capacitors. So long it can be used as a replacement for batteries in electrical and electronic devices.

And it can be charged in a matter of seconds.

Applied to your smartphone, this graphene capacitor could power the device for an entire day and only take one or two seconds to charge.

Put a big bank of these capacitors in an electric vehicle, and a 60-second charge would let you take a hundred-mile (or more) zip down the interstate at 70 miles per hour.

These new capacitors are flexible and, with the new video screen technology on the horizon, may finally lead the way to a smartphone that I won’t worry about sticking in my hip pocket.

It boggles my mind to think what we could do with a lightweight, inexpensive, power source such as this.

Electric cars become practical and affordable; electronic devices become thinner (imagine a paper thin e-reader); power tools and appliances become more portable.

Most importantly, the time and expense of charging all of these gadgets are trimmed to a very small fraction of what it costs today.

Could this be the answer to many of our energy woes? Possibly. Could there be some hitch in the process that the smart guys haven’t stumbled across yet? That’s possible, too. But right now, for dreamers like me, I am excited.

Now, where in the heck did my socks land?

Never mind me, I’m just grumpy.

Tim Renshaw formerly taught broadcasting at Greenfield-Central High School. He lives in New Palestine and can be reached at this email address: tim_renshaw@msn.com.