Researchers Ray Withers and Yun Liu with a model of a new dielectric material.
Credit: Photo courtesy the Australian National University

Researchers Ray Withers and Yun Liu with a model of a new dielectric material.

Capacitor materials in electrical components aim to meet three challenges: store a high amount of energy, minimize the loss of that energy, and work across a wide range of temperatures. This triple-sided goal has eluded scientists working with dielectric materials for years. "If you have a higher dielectric constant but also a high loss, the material is basically useless because it doesn’t store energy well—it’s like a leaky bucket. The material would also be useless if it only performs well at a certain temperature, because it couldn’t deal with normal daily temperature fluctuations. It is very difficult to achieve all three of these features," said Ray Withers, a chemistry professor at the Australian National University, in a recent press release.

Withers and his associate Yun Liu have developed a metal oxide-based dielectric material that surpasses existing capacitors in its performance, reliably storing a large amount of energy and operating between -190 and 180°C. Moreover, the researchers claim the new material is less expensive to manufacture than conventional components.

"Our material performs significantly better than existing high dielectric constant materials so it has huge potential. With further development, the material could be used in ‘supercapacitors’ which store enormous amounts of energy, removing current energy storage limitations and throwing the door wide open for innovation in the areas of renewable energy, electric cars, even space and defense technologies," said Liu. 

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.