In the 1970s, Dr Donald Highgate found a way to make contact lenses more comfortable. With colleagues at the University of Surrey, he developed a transparent, flexible polymer that held water like a sponge.
Now, the same technology has spawned a new supercapacitor material that could accelerate the adoption of electric cars, and solve one of the biggest problems facing renewables.
Instead of storing energy in chemical form like a battery, supercapacitors hold it in an electrical field, like static collecting on a balloon. In 2011, Tesla's Elon Musk predicted that it would be supercapacitors, not batteries, that would power future vehicles.
They promise faster charging times, and don't rely on expensive materials such as lithium and cobalt, says Dr Sam Cooper from the Dyson School of Design Engineering. They are also more durable. "Supercapacitors have a very long cycle life," he explains. "You can fill and empty them a huge number of times." Read more...