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Imagine an electric car with the same acceleration capability as a gas-powered sports car, or ultrafast rechargeable “batteries” that can be recharged a thousand times more than existing conventional batteries. According to physicists at North Carolina State University, all of these things are possible, thanks to their research on a polymer – or plastic material – that when used as a dielectric in capacitors may allow the capacitors to store up to seven times more energy than those currently in use.
Capacitors, like batteries, are a means of storing energy. Unlike batteries, capacitors don’t rely on a chemical reaction to produce the energy being stored. Instead, capacitors use polarization, the separation of positively and negatively charged particles, for energy storage. Part of this process involves applying an electric field to a dielectric material within the capacitor.
Dielectric material is usually a solid material that isn’t a good conductor of electricity – like ceramic, glass or plastic – but that will support an electrostatic field. When voltage is applied to a dielectric, an electrostatic field is created. The atoms within the material polarize, enabling the capacitor to store energy that can be quickly released on demand.
This ability to release large amounts of energy quickly makes capacitors especially useful in anything requiring quick acceleration times.