Rolls-Royce Invests in Breakthrough Polymers for Supercharged Batteries

The engineering giant is partnering with a UK-based startup to improve battery performance in EVs.

EDITORIAL NOTE: A previous version of this story misidentified which division of the Rolls-Royce name was involved with the development of the polymers. It previously referred to the automotive maker of the same name. The story has been edited to reflect the correction and the fact that Rolls-Royce Holdings plc -- the propulsion and engineering company -- is investing in the polymers. 

Propulsion powerhouse Rolls-Royce has signed on with a UK-based startup to create the next great battery. The company recently said in a press statement that it would tap into the same materials originally designed for contact lenses. 

The company will partner with the start-up Superdielectrics. Rolls-Royce wants to combine its years of materials science experience and decades in engineering with Superdielectric's new hydrophilic (water-attracting) polymers. The Superdielectric team also consists of researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of Surrey. 

Dr. Dave Smith, Director of Central Technology, Rolls-Royce, said in a press statement, “We believe that electrification will play an increasingly important role in many of our markets over the coming years and by working with partners on potential new technologies for energy storage we can ensure that Rolls-Royce is well positioned to take advantage of new developments.”

While partnering with the university teams, Superdielectrics developed materials nearly identical to those found in contact lenses. However, rather than helping people see or maintain moisture to the eye, these polymers increase electricity storage in capacitors. The Superdielectrics battery stores more electricity by creating electrostatic fields. 

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The most recent studies showed that this new capacitor can be between 1,000 to 10,000 times more efficient than what's currently on the market. The Superdielectrics supercapacitor would be able to piece together systems that can both quickly charge and then quickly give off its energies alongside other more traditional batteries like lithium-ion ones. This innovation could give electric vehicles and other battery types faster charging times, taking just minutes rather than a half hour or longer while not compromising on mileage or performance. 

The recently announced deal came on the heels of Rolls-Royce executive Warren East telling the public: "Electrification is an inescapable trend in industrial markets today. And that includes in aerospace, in due course, but it’s actually present today in many of the markets that we serve through our power systems business."

Interesting Engineering will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.